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Donald Trump’s dishonest Medicare-for-all attack, debunked in 3 charts

Trump calls Democrats “radical socialists” because they, like 60 percent of the country, support Medicare-for-all.

Trump wants his voters to be afraid.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

The president of the United States said in a column in USA Today on Wednesday that Democrats who support Medicare-for-all want to “end Medicare as we know it” and, via an unclear series of aftershocks, eventually turn America into Venezuela.

Donald Trump, or his ghostwriter, is sounding the alarm: Democrats have become dangerously radical leftists who want to impose authoritarian socialism on you.

Be afraid — that is the subliminal message of so many Republican campaigns in the 2018 midterms. The GOP has more or less abandoned swing voters, as evidenced in the recent drama over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Instead, they’re trying to stoke the most primal fears of their base. In his USA Today column, Trump conjures a new red scare.

Here are a couple of the most illustrative passages (emphasis mine):

In practice, the Democratic Party’s so-called Medicare for All would really be Medicare for None. Under the Democrats’ plan, today’s Medicare would be forced to die.


The truth is that the centrist Democratic Party is dead. The new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela.

Trump manages to link Medicare-for-all with “open borders” socialism by the end of the column, turning back to his favorite issue of immigration. In case the fear-mongering was not transparent enough.

The president also claims he “promised that we would protect coverage for patients with preexisting conditions and ... I have kept that promise” while ignoring the legislation he endorsed that would have loosened Obamacare’s ironclad protections and the lawsuit his Justice Department is joining to nix the preexisting conditions protections currently on the federal books.

As for Medicare-for-all, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias covered, Trump is tapping into a well-understood phenomenon: Older voters believe any redistribution of government resources will come at their expense.

In an important 2015 paper, Vivenkian Ashok, Ilyana Kuziemko, and Ebonya Washington investigate the question of why public support for economic redistribution has not risen since 1970 despite the large increase in economic inequality.

For senior citizens, however, the biggest issue is that the elderly “have grown increasingly opposed to government provision of health insurance.”

The authors posit that “older Americans worry that redistribution will come at their expense, in particular via cuts to Medicare.”

On the merits, none of the Medicare-for-all plans that Democrats have actually proposed would cut health care for seniors. If anything, they would improve upon the benefits that seniors currently receive. Trump is narrowly correct, in some sense, that Medicare-as-we-know-it would no longer exist — but he is borrowing the line that Democrats have used to criticize Republican plans to fully privatize Medicare.

As for the nonsensical Venezuela red herring, Trump obviously isn’t interested in the structural, political, civil, and cultural complexities contributing to the problems in that country. You can read Zeeshan Aleem on Vox for that. It suffices to say that Venezuela is the right’s en vogue boogeyman for scary socialism.

But almost every developed nation on Earth has a more progressive health care system than the United States.

Here are the facts about Medicare-for-all and nationalized health insurance that the president didn’t mention and that cut hard against his narrative:

  • Medicare-for-all is overwhelmingly popular with the public. Those three words have the support of nearly 60 percent of Americans, even if Democrats don’t always agree on what they mean. Medicare-for-anyone-who-wants-it, an alternative proposal from more centrist Democrats, polls even better.
  • Most European countries that Americans wouldn’t really associate with socialism have a system of health insurance that would be considered to the left of America’s. Those range from the United Kingdom’s fully nationalized system (where the government not only covers everyone, but it also employs doctors and owns hospitals) to the German and Swiss systems that use heavily regulated private insurance to attain universal coverage. They all spend a lot less money on health care than America does.
Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker
  • Americans also die at a higher rate from causes with proven medical interventions, compared to our peers in other countries with different health care systems.
Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker

Nevertheless, a month before the midterms, Trump wants his voters to be afraid — it’s a new take on the fear-based campaigns Republicans are running across the country.

“Every single citizen will be harmed by such a radical shift in American culture and life,” he warned if Democrats win in November. “Virtually everywhere it has been tried, socialism has brought suffering, misery and decay.”