Timothy Faust, a 29-year-old socialist metalhead, isn’t your typical health care policy wonk. Sporting shoulder-length hair, a bandana and a Lone Star flag tattoo on his arm, Faust is neither a medical professional, a lawmaker nor an academic. But the Wisconsin native, who spent stretches in Houston and Austin, has made a name for himself in recent months touring the country promoting single-payer health care with an unusual mix of impassioned f-bombs and unrepentant eggheadedness.
On a Friday evening in December, about 100 people packed into an Austin union hall to hear Faust speak at an event hosted by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Wearing a paint-stained jean jacket, Faust began his talk with a warm “Howdy, y’all.” A few weeks earlier, he’d concluded a 22-city tour, the first of multiple trips he hopes will carry him to all 50 states by summer.
Faust’s interests are eclectic: He studies health policy at NYU and runs a theatrical wrestling league called Party World Rasslin’. Faust also works in data science for the tech startup Oscar Health Insurance, a job he says convinces him even more that the industry must be nationalized. “Our fragmented, commodified health care model sees health care as a transaction,” he told the Austin audience. “That’s perverted. We have mistaken the profit motives of insurers for health care.” And he ridicules Obamacare as a “plaintive wail” — a mendicant subsidy to convince private industry to stop kicking the chronically ill off coverage.
“This big, dumb Rube Goldberg machine of American health care is going to fail,” he said. “And when it fails, it will be remade or replaced; we demand a federal, universal single-payer.”
For those who believe a single-payer system would be outrageously expensive, Faust points out that around 64 percent of health care costs already fall on the government, money that’s largely wasted on overpriced procedures and medicines. The money is already being spent, he says, just “really stupidly.” Single-payer, he argues, would reduce costs by combining everyone into one risk pool and giving the government leverage to negotiate lower prices.
But Faust has another motive for tooling around the country in a 2002 Honda CR-V firing up the nation’s young leftists. The DSA member sees single-payer as a Trojan horse for more sweeping reforms. Once the government is on the hook for health care, he thinks, it will be more prone to address the root causes of poor health — poverty, housing, pollution, food deserts and police violence. “And when people tell us we’re bringing about creeping socialism,” he said, “rejecting the American capitalist way of life, we’ll say, ‘Yeah, duh.’”
Faust’s vision may seem wildly optimistic. Even he thinks single-payer is years away, and he knows there’ll be opposition. “When this thing gets on the table, the fucking worst ghouls of capitalism, the worst flapping-jowled lap dogs, will come at us with their fangs bared,” he said. But he thinks groups like DSA, which now claims some 30,000 members and made a “Medicare for All” campaign a national priority, have a shot at making the issue a litmus test for Democrats in 2020. And, in a way, he sees little choice. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to fight for a single-payer program soon,” he said. “I think it’s inhumane and barbaric not to.”