Right before Congress passed his health care bill that would take away insurance from about 24 million Americans while giving wealthy Americans nearly a trillion dollars in tax cuts, Trump praised Australia’s health care system — its single-payer health care system.
On Thursday, the president met with Australia’s prime minister and told him, “[Y]ou have better health care than we do.”
Bernie Sanders, the biggest American champion of single-payer health care, literally burst out laughing when he was told during an MSNBC interview what Trump had said about the Australian system.
“Wait a minute…the President has just said it. That’s just great,” Sanders said gleefully after collecting himself from his laughter. “Let’s take a look at the Australian health care system. And let’s move — maybe he wants to take a look at the Canadian system or systems throughout Europe. Thank you, Mr. President. Let us move to a Medicare-for-all system that does what every other major country on earth does — guarantee health care for all people at a fraction of the cost per capita that we spend.”
Then he tweeted a vow to hold him accountable for his statement:
Thank you Mr. Trump for admitting that universal health care is the better way to go. I'll be sure to quote you on the floor of the Senate. pic.twitter.com/GTFRHiKw6k
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 5, 2017
And he continued to troll him, for instance tweeting this when the president tried to clean up his previous statement:
Trump: “I believe in universal healthcare.”
Also Trump: Pass my bill that will kick 24 million people off of their health insurance. https://t.co/TboqL8WpbY
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 5, 2017
It may seem strange for a Republican president to speak admiringly of a nationalized, universal health care system just as he is about to pass a bill that may make insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions (by weakening protections and allowing states to obtain waivers to allow insurers to charge more to those Americans).
However, pre-presidency Trump had a long history of supporting universal health care and for lamenting the fact that the United States is the only industrialized country in the world without universal access to government-run health care.
In 2000, in his book, The America We Deserve, Trump wrote: “We must have universal health care. Just imagine the improved quality of life for our society as a whole,” he wrote. “The Canadian-style, single-payer system in which all payments for medical care are made to a single agency (as opposed to the large number of HMOs and insurance companies with their diverse rules, claim forms and deductibles) … helps Canadians live longer and healthier than Americans.”
In 2000, he also said, as a candidate for president, “I would put forth a comprehensive health care program and fund it with an increase in corporate taxes.”
In 2016, on David Letterman’s show, he praised Scotland’s single-payer system: “A friend of mine was in Scotland recently. He got very, very sick. They took him by ambulance and he was there for four days. He was really in trouble, and they released him and he said, ‘Where do I pay?’ And they said, ‘There’s no charge.’ Not only that, he said it was like great doctors, great care. I mean we could have a great system in this country.”
During a 60 Minutes interview during the campaign, Trump also said, of his future health care plans, “Everybody’s got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say. I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now. […] The government’s gonna pay for it.”
What did pre-presidency Trump know about single-payer health care systems that President Trump seems to have forgotten?
When the pre-presidency Trump said that single-payer health care works much better than our system and President Trump declared that Australia’s system is better than ours, both Trumps were correct. Single-payer, universal health care has been shown to demonstrate better health care outcomes than the American system. Here’s why:
The United States spends twice as much on health care as Australia does (about $9,000 per person vs. around $4,000). Americans spend more for prescription drugs than any other industrialized country except New Zealand. While the United States spends 17% of its GDP on health care, other countries spend a fraction of that (Australia about half).
The Unites States has lower life expectancies and much higher rates of disease than other industrialized countries. In a 2014 study, the United States ranked last among 11 industrialized countries in health care quality but first in cost.
In 2014, out of 55 countries, Australia was ranked sixth in health care efficiency. The United States was ranked 44th. Research has found that our private insurance-based system — where private insurance companies enjoy record-breaking profits for their shareholders — results in much more waste and inefficiencies than single-payer systems.
Australia and other industrialized nations provide free or subsidized health care for all citizens. In contrast, even after Obamacare, 28.5 million non-elderly Americans have no health insurance.
Most Americans (60% in a Pew poll from this year) agree with Trump; they think the government should be responsible making sure that all Americans have health care coverage.
This old version of Trump was pretty smart about health care. He should have a talk with the President Trump who created this new terrible health care bill passed by the House.
In the meantime, you can advocate for single-payer health care through volunteering for, donating to, and joining protests with groups such as the Universal Health Care Action Network, Families USA, Healthcare NOW!, and the Campaign for Guaranteed Healthcare.