Dems Backpedal on Medicare for All 

Kamala Harris next to reverse signal; dems backpedal on medicare for all

Single-payer healthcare has become a litmus test for Democrats wading into the pool of the 2020 presidential race. While Medicare for All has several champions in the race, more and more Dems are backpedaling on the idea of completely eliminating private insurers in favor of a government-sponsored system. 

Kamala Harris

At the close of the first Democratic debates in June, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised her hand when all the candidates were asked: “Who here would abolish their private insurance?”

Immediately after the debate, Harris backtracked on her position, stating she misunderstood the question to be about her own personal private insurance, not that of the entire country. She has spent the last two months fighting against the accusations of being a “flip-flopper.” 

However, some of these accusations may have a bit of truth to them. Currently a co-sponsor of Senator Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) Medicare for All bill, Harris now says moving to single-payer so quickly would be like trying to “make this circle fit into a square.” 

Her new Medicare for All bill would allow private insurance to function alongside Medicare similar to the way Medicare Advantage plans currently do. She says she has more confidence in her 10-year plan than other ones previously proposed. 

Other candidates’ positions

  • O’Rourke. When the former Texas Representative ran his often viral Senate campaign in 2017, he said Medicare for All was the “best way.” He now supports Medicare for America, a plan which, similar to Harris’s, has a public Medicare option. 
  • Buttigieg. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg also believes a public option will provide a smooth transition to single-payer–at some point in the near future. His bill, Medicare for All Who Want It, provides choice while covering all Americans. 
  • Booker. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker co-sponsored the Medicare for All bill and still supports it, but he also calls himself a “pragmatist.” He also said he is focused on “the immediate things we would do” for healthcare reform, which includes leaving the private insurance industry intact–for now. 
  • Sanders. Author and champion of the Medicare for All bill that started it all, Sanders argues that leaving the private insurance industry intact will only lead to more inequalities and privileges in a tiered healthcare system. 
  • Warren. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren emphatically supports Sanders’s vision of Medicare for All, but has previously said there are “a lot of different pathways” to accomplishing this goal. 

How the American public feels

A July 2019 poll from the Washington Post and ABC News found that 52 percent of Americans and 77 percent of Democrats prefer single-payer to the current system. However, this support dipped to 43 and 66 percent, respectively, when respondents were told this would eliminate private insurance. 

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, said, “What I think has happened in the Democratic primary is people recognize that some of the concerns about single-payer are not coming from special interests but the public.”

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