Sen. Bernie Sanders, a fierce advocate for Medicare for All, dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary Wednesday.
Sanders' (I-Vt.) exit leaves former Vice President Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Biden has advocated bolstering the Affordable Care Act and creating a public insurance option.
Sanders' exit likely extinguishes the already slim chances that Medicare for All will be on Congress' agenda in the near future. Ipsita Smolinski, managing director of Capitol Street consulting firm, said Medicare for All has never had widespread congressional support and would likely have failed even if Sanders had won the presidency.
"With Bernie Sanders dropping out today, and COVID-19 multi-trillion packages flowing, Medicare for All is truly dead. Hospitals and other providers are struggling, and the billions of dollars of dollars in relief may not be enough," Smolinski said.
Major players in the healthcare industry have adamantly opposed both single-payer and public option proposals, and groups including the American Hospital Association, America's Health Insurance Plans, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and many others created a dark-money group that spends against the policies nationwide.
However, McDermott+Consulting vice president and former GOP health policy staffer Rodney Whitlock said the healthcare industry's response to the COVID-19 pandemic will have a larger impact on health policy conversations in the future than Sanders' exit from the race.
Physicians for a National Health Program, which supports transitioning to a single-payer healthcare system, said the movement is larger than one candidate and the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the weaknesses of a system based on health insurance tied to employment.
"Any sensible person looking at the current state of healthcare must conclude that private coverage is like an umbrella that melts in the rain, and that government needs to step in to assure universal coverage through a single payer plan," PNHP co-founder Dr. David Himmelstein said.
Healthcare industry executives heavily preferred more moderate candidates like Biden in early campaign contributions, and shunned progressive candidates like Sanders who advocated a transition to a single-payer healthcare system.
Some big questions remain about the specifics of Biden's healthcare plan, including how much a public option would reimburse hospitals and other healthcare providers.
Democrats have moved their presidential convention to the week of Aug. 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.