When Medicare was created in 1965, it was intended to eventually cover all Americans as a universal healthcare plan, not to remain as an insurance program exclusively for the elderly. In 1972, minor changes were made to Medicare eligibility, including as recipients those with disabilities and with end-stage renal disease. The idea of a national health insurance plan was also re-introduced in the early 1970s but was defeated each time it was proposed. Republican Senator Jacob Javits proposed expanding Medicare to cover all Americans in 1970 and was the first one credited to have coined the phrase “Medicare for all.”
From 2003 to 2017, Democratic Representative John Conyers introduced and reintroduced his Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. In 2006, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy introduced a Medicare for All Act, which proposed the idea that was the original intent of the Social Security Administration staffers who set up Medicare, to gradually expand Medicare to include all citizens and legal residents.
In recent years, “Medicare for all” has re-emerged in political campaigns. Today, the concept refers to a single-payer type of health insurance that would virtually eliminate private health insurance or exist alongside private insurance, depending on the proposal.
Various versions of the universal healthcare concept are being proposed. Essentially the idea of “Medicare for all” includes the basic healthcare benefits of the current Medicare system such as provider visits, certain outpatient services, and hospitalization. Some proposals expand that coverage to include dental, vision, hearing, and long-term care services with no premiums, deductibles, or co-pays. Other proposals include a “public option” that would not eliminate private insurance but would be considered a “government insurance plan” offered as an option to those seeking health insurance.
“Medicare for all” is sometimes referred to as “single payer” or “universal” healthcare. Single-payer means that there would only be one payer for the cost of the universal health coverage and that would be the federal government. Taxes would probably increase to cover part of the costs, but how much and who would be taxed are also issues up for debate.
Medicare coverage for all Americans would ensure that everyone in the country has healthcare coverage, a concept that has been embraced by every wealthy, developed nation except the US. With rising healthcare costs, including the costs of health insurance, one in ten Americans is uninsured today and many of those with insurance are challenged financially by their medical bills.