Coronavirus prompts some on the right to reconsider 'socialized medicine'

It's worth pausing to marvel at the right's occasional embrace of what I like to call "emergency socialism."
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The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC, December 10, 2013.JIM WATSON / AFP/Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

The White House is reportedly considering a plan in which uninsured (and under-insured) Americans infected with the coronavirus could receive medical care at nearby hospitals, and the facilities would be reimbursed at Medicare rates.

In effect, as we discussed earlier, Donald Trump and his team is eyeing something akin to a Medicare-for-All plan -- but only for a little while, and only for those with a very specific ailment.

How would Republicans in Congress feel about such an approach? Evidently, plenty on the right are on board -- including some of Capitol Hill's fiercest opponents Democratic proposals to expand public access to taxpayer-subsidized care.

"You can look at it as socialized medicine," Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) told HuffPost on Tuesday. "But in the face of an outbreak, a pandemic, what's your options?" Yoho, one of the most anti-Obamacare lawmakers in Congress, said it would be a "wise thing" for the government to pay for testing and treatment of the uninsured, while also saying he's "not OK with socialized medicine."

The Florida Republican added that the pending proposal appears to meet the standards for "socialized medicine," though added, "[H]opefully it's not the long-term."

Yoho wasn't alone. HuffPost also spoke to Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, who said a viral pandemic "is a distinct issue from the overall health care proposals that have been on the table for a while."

On the surface, Republicans' sudden ideological flexibility is a welcome development. The alternative, of course, is GOP lawmakers saying their political philosophy has to take precedence over a deadly viral outbreak.

But just below the surface, there are some relevant details. It matters, for example, that if Republicans are comfortable with a socialized system for the coronavirus, they could eventually be equally comfortable with such a system for other serious ailments.

Look again at the quote from Ted Yoho, but this time replace a few relevant elements: You can look at it as socialized medicine, but in the face of Americans dying from cancer, what's your options?

It also matters that some of these same Republicans are enthusiastic proponents of the Supreme Court tearing down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, stripping millions of American families of their health security. As the threat of a pandemic grows, is there any chance GOP officials will reconsider the importance of their litigation?

And finally, it's worth pausing to marvel at the right's occasional embrace of what I like to call "emergency socialism." Under emergency socialism, those opposed to socialism quietly put aside their entire political philosophy because of the urgency of the circumstances and the merits of socialistic ideas.

There was a stock market crash in 2008? Republicans embraced a massive, taxpayer-financed government bailout of Wall Street -- which was, for all intents and purposes, a socialistic plan. Farmers are struggling as a result of Trump's trade war? Republicans also endorsed a plan in which farmers had taxpayers pay a significant chunk of their income for a while.

The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell recently added in a column:

With nary a peep from his party, Trump has tried to prop up pet industries, such as coal, by government fiat. Indeed, other Republicans have since copied his strategy at the state level. Likewise, in a move that once would have had Republicans screaming bloody murder, Trump has slapped tariffs on virtually every major trading partner around the world to protect favored industries, such as steel.... If you're a Never Trumper worried that [Bernie] Sanders will take this country down the road to serfdom, beware: President Trump has already paved the path.

I suppose we've reached the "socialism for me, not for thee" phase of the debate?