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  December 6, 2017

Ben Jealous: Maryland Needs Medicare-for-All

Ahead of a rally with Bernie Sanders, Maryland Democratic Gubernatorial hopeful and civil rights leader Ben Jealous discusses his new state plan for Medicare for All
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Ben Jealous is a civil rights leader, community organizer, tech investor, and the former President & CEO of the NAACP who is running for governor of Maryland. He's spent his whole life building broad, diverse coalitions to make change and hold government accountable.


AARON MATÉ: It's The Real News. I'm Aaron Maté. Democratic gubernatorial Ben Jealous has just released a plan calling for Medicare for all in Maryland. To unveil it, he is holding a rally tonight in Baltimore with Senator Bernie Sanders. Ahead of that rally, he's here with me in studio to discuss his plan. Ben, welcome.

BEN JEALOUS: Thank you, Aaron. It's good to be here.

AARON MATÉ: Talk about what you're proposing.

BEN JEALOUS: What we're proposing is to finally get our state to a place where everybody has healthcare and we can do it quite frankly, because we can get a better deal for the people of the state. We can cut how much it costs to run the program significantly. We can frankly get a better deal from Big Pharma by getting better economies of scale, but also because while the federal government has prohibited the federal government from getting a better deal for us from Big Pharma, it has not prohibited states and localities.

Also, here in our state we have an all-payer system that's already cut the cost of healthcare in our state tremendously and we could expand that further. For all those reasons, we're saying we can stretch our dollars further and we're really building this off of research that's been done by the RAND Corporation. States like Oregon, where they said that the state of Oregon could save $600 million per year by going to a state-based Medicare for all type program. Well, that state's two-thirds the size of ours, so we have great confidence that we can get a better deal for the people of our state.

AARON MATÉ: An all-payer, to clarify, which Maryland has, that's basically something that requires insurers to pay the same rates for hospital services.

BEN JEALOUS: Right, exactly. You could expand that to other service providers. Right now it's pretty crazy. In other states, every hospital has multiple rates depending on which insurance program of which insurer they're billing. Here in Maryland, you can only charge one rate for the hospital, regardless of who the insurance plan is. We can expand that to other service providers. That sort of simplicity makes it easier to go to a healthcare for all type program, but it also frankly just cut costs.

AARON MATÉ: Politically, you also have the advantage of where the all-payer, which currently exists, currently has the support of both parties. To expand that might not be as big of a fight as it would be in a different state.

BEN JEALOUS: My hope is that we can get bipartisan consensus on this ultimately. As we've done on criminal justice reform. For instance, in states like Georgia and Texas. When I was President of the NAACP we were involved in that. Because the need, the urgency exists across party lines, it exists for people who don't have healthcare, for people who do. I mean, this is the number one cause of bankruptcy in our state. It exists for small businesses. I feel like they're being choked. What we're saying in this plan, it's very similar to Bernie's plan, is that we would set up a council of stakeholders who'd really dive into the problem and figure out how we get a better deal and we cover everybody in our state.

AARON MATÉ: In terms of the impact of the current system on people, you mentioned it being the number one cause of bankruptcy. Talk more about what the state of the healthcare system in Maryland is right now and how your plan would change it.

BEN JEALOUS: It's kind of the same here as it is in most states when you get right down to it. Prices have been surging for decades. The most expensive option is literally to maintain the status quo and you see it show up in a number of ways. First of all, families they feel like they just don't ever get a raise and when you dig into what's going on, because the money your employer would've given you for a raise, they paid on higher healthcare costs to the employer, while then passing on higher healthcare costs to you, and then something bad happens and you find out that you actually have to come out-of-pocket thousands, and thousands, and thousands of dollars. That's where the personal bankruptcy's come in. Then you have ... A lot of folks say, "I just can't afford this," and so they don't have healthcare. We have 350,000 of those in our state.

That's poised to go up dramatically should President Trump have his way with Obamacare. Then you meet somebody who's 80 years old and they have Medicare and yet they can't afford to pay their pharmaceuticals and they're back in the workforce to pay their pharmaceutical bill. In this country, we are 5% of the world's people. We're 60% of Big Pharma's profits. It's not uncommon to find drugs here that cost three, four, five times as much as they do in Canada or in western Europe. The simple fact is, we can get a better deal and we can do it in a way that every western European country has, that Canada has, and that frankly the people of our state and the people of our country increasingly want us to do, which is just frankly stop being so different. Let's just do it the way that the rest of the west does it and in the process get a better deal for all of us.

AARON MATÉ: The pushback you'll get from people, even those who support a single-payer system, is that Maryland can't do it on its own in the absence of a federal program and they'll point to California, which just tried to pass a universal bill, but failed, and Vermont where the governor there who ran on universal healthcare said that he couldn't do it ultimately because the tax increase would be too high. How is Maryland different?

BEN JEALOUS: Those are two very different situations. One's a very large economy. One's a very, very small, small economy. The case of California worked fine as far as the economies of scale being able to do this. The governor didn't want it at the end of the day and there you go. In California, it was politics. In Vermont, they said that the state was way too small. We're 10 times the size of Vermont. We're absolutely large enough to get this done and when we have a governor who wants to get it done, we will get it done. It's the same things that are driving the push in all these states that show that more than half the people in California wanted to switch, is what we're seeing here. We just got to have the will. We don't have the Vermont problem. They're just tiny. We don't have and we won't have the California problem, which is a governor who is not fully in support of doing this. I'll be fully in support.

AARON MATÉ: Your opponent in the Democratic primaries, anybody else supporting Medicare for all?

BEN JEALOUS: Lots of folks talking about public option. I would send them to the RAND Corporation study. A very centrist think-tank first started by the U.S. Air Force said when they looked at Oregon, again two-thirds the size of Maryland, that switching to a Medicare for all system was the best option for the state. They said with regards to the public option, the public option won't cost much, because it won't do much. It will maintain the status quo and that's the most expensive option.

AARON MATÉ: Ben Jealous is a longtime civil-right's leader, former head of the NAACP, and now a Democratic hopeful for the governorship in Maryland. Ben, thank you.

BEN JEALOUS: Thank you, Aaron.

AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.


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