Medicare for All emerges as test for 2020 Dems
Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke at length this week about her vision for improving the American health care system, like strengthening the Affordable Care Act and making prescription drugs more affordable. Twice, though, she ignored a question posed to her: Would she support eliminating private health insurance in favor of a single-payer system?
“Affordable health care for every American” is her goal, Warren said on Bloomberg Television, and there are “different ways we can get there.”
To put it another way: I am not walking into that political trap.
Warren of Massachusetts and three other liberal presidential candidates support a Medicare for All bill, which would create a single-payer health plan run by the government and increase federal spending by at least $2.5 trillion a year, according to several estimates. But Warren’s determination to sidestep an essential but deeply controversial issue at the heart of the single-payer model – would people lose the choices offered by private insurance? – illustrated one of the thorniest dilemmas for several Democrats as the 2020 primary gets underway.
Their activist base, inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., believes the party should unabashedly pursue universal health care, ending private insurance entirely. But polls indicate that the broader electorate, particularly the moderate- and high-income voters who propelled the party’s sweeping suburban gains in the midterms, is uneasy about this “Medicare for all” approach in which many would lose their current insurance options and pay higher taxes.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California drew immediate attacks from Republicans this week by taking on the issue that Warren dodged. Harris breezily acknowledged in a CNN town hall forum that she would “eliminate all of that,” referring to ending private insurance in a country where almost 60 percent of the population receives coverage through an employer.
Her remark triggered an intraparty debate about an issue that until now had been largely theoretical: Should they build incrementally on the Affordable Care Act or scrap the insurance sector entirely and create a European-style public program?