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Seema Verma Links 'Medicare-for-All' to 'Failed Socialist Healthcare'

Analysis  |  By Steven Porter  
   March 04, 2019

The CMS administrator says a favorite talking point among Democratic presidential hopefuls poses 'the greatest threat to the American healthcare system.'

The head of the federal agency that oversees Medicare stepped up her criticism Monday of a push by some Democrats to expand the program to cover the whole country.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma has previously criticized the "Medicare-for-All" proposals being proffered by liberal lawmakers and presidential hopefuls, even calling the idea last year's "scariest Halloween costume."

Her remarks Monday at the 2019 Federation of American Hospitals (FAH) Public Policy Conference & Business Exposition in Washington, D.C, however, settled on a more dire superlative, saying "Medicare-for-All" proposals pose "the greatest threat to the American healthcare system."

"Let me be clear: Expanding Medicare will ruin the program for the seniors it was created to serve, and it would decrease the quality of care that we, as Americans, have come to expect as the world's leader in innovative health care," Verma said.

Resorting to a fully government-driven healthcare system would impede advances in care and exacerbate Medicare's existing problems, she said, rhetorically tying "Medicare-for-All" to a favorite bogeyman of the Trump administration.

"Now, it's true that our present system needs improvement; however, doubling down on government and mimicking the failed socialist healthcare systems of Europe that ration and restrict care, where patients face long periods of time for care, is not the answer," Verma added.

Instead, policymakers should focus on "the hard work" of curbing costs. The best way to do that, she said, is to embrace competition, empower patients with information about price and care quality, scale back regulations, and promote innovation.

While there's no reason to doubt the sincerity of Verma's criticism, some accuse the Trump administration of resorting to scare tactics and political caricature when its officials say "Medicare-for-All" will necessarily lead to failure and socialism. This was the case, anyway, after President Trump similarly invoked socialism in a USA Today op-ed last fall to criticize Democrats and their "Medicare-for-All" proposals.

At the least, Verma's speech should be heard in its political context. It comes shortly after Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., introduced a "Medicare-for-All" bill, as Democrats who took control of the House this year see healthcare policy talk as a winning issue, and as a crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls ramps up to the 2020 election. When asked about socialism by political pollsters, half of Americans reacted negatively, while just 18% reacted positively, which explains why Trump and fellow Republicans have sought to attach the classification to Democratic policies and politicians alike, as CNBC's John Harwood wrote Sunday.

Verma's remarks were delivered to a host that has indicated at least some agreement with her position. FAH President and CEO Charles "Chip" N. Kahn III released a statement last week opposing Jayapal's bill, and an FAH spokesperson says the organization is a member of the Partnership for America's Healthcare Future (a broad coalition that has mobilized to oppose "Medicare-for-All").

Related: For 2020 Dem Hopefuls, 'Medicare-For-All' Is A Defining Issue, However They Define It

Related: Progressives Tout 'Medicare-For-All' But States Eye 'Medicaid Buy-In'

Related: With Industry Backing, American Hospital Association CEO Rebuffs 'Medicare-for-All'

Steven Porter is an associate content manager and Strategy editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

Photo credit: Sundry Photography /


The speech criticizing 'Medicare-for-All' comes as Democrats seek to define the healthcare policy conversation.

The message echoes President Trump's efforts to tie Democrats and liberal policies to the concept of socialism, which is unpopular among Americans.

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