Here’s Why ‘Single Payer’ Health Care Talk Has Spiked On Twitter

As the future of health care continues to be debated at the federal and state levels, the term gained almost 400,000 mentions in May

Illustration: Diana Quach
Jun 13, 2017 at 5:21 PM ET

As Senate Republicans continue to work on revising President Donald Trump’s health care bill for a potential vote later this month, the conversation around the creation of a single-payer system has garnered more mentions on Twitter than any time in the last two and a half years.

Following the California state senate approving a preliminary plan to enact a single-payer health care system, which would allow the state’s government to produce a mandatory program of public coverage, almost 400,000 tweets mentioning “single payer” appeared on Twitter last month. The May tweet total of the term was the highest of any single month since at least January 2014.

The findings come as the idea of single-payer plan is gaining ground among Democrats. As The New York Times reported, that “single-payer proposals appear mainly to embody the sweeping ambitions of a frustrated party, rather than to map a clear way forward on policy. ”

When scoping out the evolution of the social-media discussion on a single-payer system in the last three years, some could point  to one of the Democratic presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Until last year, the term only received a few thousand monthly mentions on Twitter. But that changed in January 2016, when “single payer” received more the 100,000 mentions. At a Democratic debate in Charleston, South Carolina, Sanders presented his plan for a single-payer healthcare policy, or, as his campaign described it, “Medicare for All.” During the debate, Clinton insisted that “universal health care” could be achieved through the Affordable Care Act. In the 24 hours that followed the debate, almost 20,000 tweets and retweets of the term “single payer” were counted, which was more than the monthly average for all of 2015.

As the year progressed, the level of Twitter chatter on “single payer” declined, even though the rate of mentions was still much higher than it was before the election cycle. But following the election of President Donald Trump, the uncertain future of the ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare, made the single-payer discussion relevant again. In March, when House Republicans initially pulled their health care bill, the single-payer option was mentioned more than 300,000 times. Leading the Twitter discussion were avid Sanders supporters.

But it is not just the efforts of progressive Democrats that’s pushing the social-media discussion of the single-payer option. In fact, ordinary citizens played a large role in the spike. One of those was a viral video of an Air Force veteran who explained to New York Rep. Tom Reed at a town hall how the single-payer plan has saved her life. Her words were shared thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook.

And the rising interest in the single-payer option isn’t just exclusive to social media. Between March and May of this year, the single-payer article on Wikipedia had more than 350,000 page views, which was not far off from the 365,000 page views that the page for the American Health Care Act, the Republicans’ health care bill, had during that same time.