POLITICS

Dying ‘Medicare For All’ Activist Endorses Elizabeth Warren

“What matters most to me is that Warren is all in for Medicare for All,” wrote Ady Barkan.

Ady Barkan, a “Medicare for All” advocate dying of ALS, endorsed Elizabeth Warren for president on Wednesday, boosting the 2020 hopeful’s progressive credibility as she seeks to quiet doubts about her health care plan.

“I believe that she, more than any other person in America, has the skills, the temperament, and the knowledge to lead us toward a more just and equitable future,” Barkan wrote in The Nation.

In the opinion piece, Barkan was keen to express his admiration for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), calling the chance to pick between the two candidates a “difficult and wonderful choice to have.”

But he cited Warren’s attentive and methodical style of policymaking as a driving factor behind his decision.

“I believe in Warren because during her whole career, she has fought to put economic and political power in the hands of working families,” he added. “I’ve seen up close how she confronts a problem: She listens to the people most affected, does her homework, and then comes up with a plan. A brilliant, workable plan.”

Crucially for Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Barkan also hailed her Medicare for All plan, which has drawn fire from critics on her right and her left.

“What matters most to me is that Warren is all in for Medicare for All,” he wrote.

Ady Barkan (center) speaks out against the Republican tax cut bill in December 2017. He is devoting the last years of his lif
Ady Barkan (center) speaks out against the Republican tax cut bill in December 2017. He is devoting the last years of his life to fighting for his vision of social justice.

Barkan, a 35-year-old attorney who pioneered the left’s first contemporary campaign to pressure the Federal Reserve, has become something of a folk hero in progressive circles. Since being diagnosed with ALS, which is slowly paralyzing him to death, in October 2016, he has devoted every remaining moment he has to defeating President Donald Trump, winning the “battle with fascism,” and furthering his vision for a more economically, socially and racially equitable country. 

Barkan has focused his efforts in the 2020 election cycle on trying to get as many candidates as possible to embrace a Medicare for All, single-payer health care system. Barkan sought in-person interviews solely devoted to health care policy with the Democratic candidates at his home in Santa Barbara, California.  And with the help of a computer that translates his eye movements into words, Barkan grilled Sanders, Warren, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. (Barkan publicly lamented that the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden would not make Biden available.) 

Through his Be A Hero Fund, Barkan posted the videos of each of the interviews online. In his discussion with Warren in September, it was clear that they had an existing relationship dating to Barkan’s days as a Federal Reserve activist. He nonetheless pressed her to explain her late conversion to the Medicare for All cause and reluctance to emphasize it during the early part of her presidential bid.

“I think it was more ... focused on transition than on endpoint,” Warren responded. “But there are areas where markets just don’t work and a big part of health care is one of those. So the idea that we could get a couple of regulations in place and it will sort itself out is just not true with health care.”

Barkan’s endorsement is particularly welcome for Warren on the eve of Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta. Warren will join nine of her rivals onstage at 9 p.m. Eastern time at the close of one of the roughest periods for her campaign since she took the first steps toward launching it in late December 2018.

Facing a drumbeat of pressure to clarify whether she, like Sanders, would get behind middle-class tax hikes to fund Medicare for All, Warren released a detailed financing plan at the start of November that appeared to spare those in the middle class. Barkan rushed to her defense when some left-leaning experts and activists argued that its structure was actually more regressive than some explicit middle-class taxes would be.

Then, on Friday, two weeks after the release of her financing plan, Warren revealed that she planned to pursue the proposal in stages. She would begin her presidency by using budget reconciliation to enact a public option and lower the Medicare eligibility age to 50. In a second stage, she would fold everyone into one expanded and improved Medicare program, ending private health insurance for things already covered by the new Medicare. 

The possibility of a timeline in which Warren would defer the most controversial element of her plan until after the first midterm elections of her would-be administration confirmed in the minds of many on the left that she was insufficiently committed to the end goal of single-payer health care.

Not so for Barkan, who noted that her lowering of the Medicare eligibility age would move faster than Sanders’ four-year transition, which lowers the age to 55 in its first year.

“Her plan says clearly that by the end of her first term, everyone will have comprehensive guaranteed Medicare ― whether you are rich or poor, young or old; that there will be no co-pays, premiums, or deductibles; and that we will bring down the costs of health care because private insurance companies will no longer be able to put profit over patients,” Barkan wrote in The Nation.

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