DETROIT — Andy Thorburn, a health insurance executive who is plugging $2 million into a bid to replace Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), is the latest Democrat pushing the party to embrace single-payer health care — even in swing districts. In a video announcement, Thorburn paints the contest as a referendum on health care, between a Republican who voted for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a Democrat who wants to move, eventually, to “Medicare for all.”
In an interview, Thorburn presented himself as a candidate who could debate health care from a position of total awareness. He ran Global Benefits Group, an international insurance company, until stepping back to the board this year.
“The part that really bothered me, when Obama first presented his plan, was my friends and colleagues starting their arguments by saying: ‘Hey, we have the best medical system in the world. Why change it?’ I was like, ‘Look, I can’t have a serious discussion with you if you think that.’ It’s the best system if you’re rich. But it’s clearly not the best for everyone. Yeah, the shah of Iran came here for treatment once — that’s not the standard!”
Progressives, who are stepping up their campaigns to promote single-payer legislation — and baiting Republicans into attack ads — have struggled with California. The state’s Democratic-run legislature had passed single-payer legislation during the term of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), knowing it would be vetoed; a new single-payer bill was bottled up by legislators, kicking off months of intraparty infighting.
Thorburn suggested that the Democrats’ national single-payer debate could start on different terms.
“I’m aware of the debate,” Thorburn said. “Look, the tax burden has to go up, but all you’re doing is shifting from one pocket to another. And the end of the day, we’re paying less money for health care, because that’s been the experience of every country that went to this system.”
Asked about the effect that universal Medicare would have on the private insurance system, Thorburn acknowledged that it would hurt.
“Move as quickly as you can,” he said. “It would have a negative impact on my business, but it would be relatively small. Almost all the countries that have universal insurance also have competitive supplemental insurance industries. Germany has Allianz, one of the biggest insurers in the world.”
On Tuesday night in Detroit, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) were holding a town hall meeting to promote specific single-payer legislation in Congress — Conyers’s HR 676, and Sanders’s tbd bill. Thorburn said he would study the bills, suggesting he could cut his own path without undermining anything Democrats were doing.
“I’m not one of those people who thinks [Nancy] Pelosi’s terrible,” he said, referring to the House minority leader, “but I’m too much of a novice to think I know who should be speaker.”