The Koch Brothers: Behind New Strategy Against M4A?

We talk with Ben Palmquist from Partners for Dignity & Rights about a new anti-single payer bill in the Florida state legislature that would require a two-thirds supermajority to pass a single payer bill in the state. We segue into a larger conversation about the various opposition groups that have sprung up against Medicare for All and how the Florida bill is part of a trend of attacks on both healthcare and democracy.

Show Notes

Ben and Stephanie speak with guest Ben Palmquist, Program Director, Health Care and Economic Democracy, at Partners for Dignity and Rights (aka NESRI) to discuss the Koch Brothers’ entry into the M4A debate at the state level.

Healthcare advocates are watching an anti-M4A bill working its way through the Florida State Senate which, if passed by the legislature and voters, would require a two-thirds supermajority to pass a state single payer bill. If this bill passes in the Florida legislature, it would go on the next statewide election ballot and would require 60% of the vote to pass and amend the state constitution.

It appears that Americans for Prosperity (the libertarian/conservative think tank funded by the Koch brothers) may be behind this bill, and are considering pushing it through other Republican-controlled legislatures if they’re successful in Florida.

A single payer bill has not actually been introduced in Florida, so this anti-M4A bill is in anticipation of the introduction of one, should the state continue to trend purple and swing to the left.

Ben P sketches out broader right-wing policy campaigns, including attacks on voting rights and democracy. Healthcare industries are highly organized against M4A (and any legislation that changes the status quo). He notes that typically the insurance industry is in competition with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies because they bargain with each other over prices. But now we’re seeing coalitions (Partnership for America’s HealthCare Future, Realities of Single Payer, Affordable Coverage Coalition) bringing them together to attack any shift away from privatized insurance.

Stephanie puts the Florida bill singling out M4A for a two-thirds majority into the context of a larger attack on democracy. Ben P notes it’s part of a strategy that the right-wing has used for decades, dating back to the California tax revolt in the 1970s. In California, Proposition 13 is still state law, requiring any tax hike to be passed by a two-thirds majority, making it hard to raise revenue, decimating public education and other public services. Conservatives are now using this model for a systematic attack on voting rights and democracy: even if the citizens of Florida elect a majority of legislators who want to pass single payer, they will preemptively prohibit the will of the people from being enacted.

They discuss the way conservatives have also dominated the framing of the healthcare debate in the media. Conservative groups of all stripes have found common cause in attacking government at all levels and sectors, most recently in a coordinated campaign to frame M4A as “government-run”. On the other hand, rather than talking about the current system as “corporate-run,” the conservative frame refers to it as “private,” erasing corporate profiteers from the discussion about the system. Mainstream media has picked up this frame to discuss any attempts at healthcare reform.

Stephanie notes the recent effort by liberal philanthropy and think tanks to focus on countries with universal coverage with private insurance. Media stories have held up countries like Singapore and Switzerland to justify the role of private insurance in a universal healthcare system. These stories downplay the fact that these countries have different regulations on private insurance than we have: in some, their hospitals are public, or the government sets prices, and workers have seats on boards that govern the economy.

For Florida activists who want to help stop the anti-M4A bill: contact members of the Senate Rules Committee.

To push back on right-wing talking points, Ben P emphasizes sharing our personal stories as a way to bring other people impacted by the system into the campaign. Stories shift the conversation and changes what the media focuses on and what politicians have to respond to. Calling out the profiteers for price hikes on pharmaceuticals and outrageous hospital bills also helps to reframe the conversation.

Visit for Partners for Dignity and Rights’ report on media adoption of the insurance industry spin, and their recommendations for balanced and unbiased language in healthcare reporting. Activists should use this resource when speaking to the editorial boards or reporters of their own local news media.

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