Sanders sets bar for 2020 Dems with ‘Medicare for all’ rollout

Greg Nash

Bernie Sanders — considered the front-runner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination — is setting a high bar for other candidates with his “Medicare for all” plan.

Sanders has made his plan to move the U.S. to a single-payer, government-run health care system a center point of his second presidential campaign, with no room for compromise or other proposals that would take incremental steps toward universal coverage.

{mosads}And while four out of the five Senate Democrats running for president backed the new version of the plan that Sanders introduced Wednesday, most of them are also open to other “pathways” to making sure everyone is insured — a concept called “universal coverage.”

“We all share a goal of wanting to have a nation where everyone has access to health care, affordable, quality health care,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a 2020 contender who backs Sanders’s plan, said in a radio interview Wednesday.

“But anybody who says those words — ‘Medicare for all’ — who’s running for president, the next thing out of their mouth should be talking to people about, in a split Congress, what are you going to actually do in your first year to make health care more accessible and affordable?”

Booker said a Medicare for all system is ideal but that he also supports “pragmatic” proposals that would build off the current system by keeping ObamaCare and private, employer-sponsored insurance while expanding Medicare on a much smaller scale.

{mossecondads}Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), all vying for the Democratic nomination as well, also support Sanders’s plan, which has 14 co-sponsors in all. But they have likewise come out in support of what they say are other pathways to universal coverage. Of Sanders’s 2020 opponents, Gillibrand was the only one to attend the rollout Wednesday.

All but Warren have signed on to a bill introduced earlier this year that would let anyone between the ages of 50 and 64 buy Medicare plans.

And Harris and Booker both support a proposal by potential 2020 contender Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), called Medicare-X, which would expand access to ObamaCare and let anyone buy a Medicare plan.

Meanwhile, Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is the only senator running for president who doesn’t support Medicare for all, instead favoring proposals that would allow people to buy into Medicare while keeping the structure of private insurance.

Sanders himself only supports his plan, which would overhaul the entire U.S. health care system and transform  Medicare into a single-payer program run by the government, replacing private health insurance and eliminating other government plans like Medicaid.

“The American people are increasingly clear: They want a health care system which guarantees health care to all Americans as a right,” Sanders said Wednesday at an event announcing the bill.

In an interview last month, Sanders rejected “incremental” approaches to health care outside of his own plan, which would phase in over a period of four years.

“The incremental reform that I support is phasing in Medicare for all,” he said on MSNBC in March.

It’s an opportunity for Sanders, who popularized Medicare for all in his 2016 presidential campaign against eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, to set himself apart from a larger field of candidates, many of whom have positioned themselves on the left.

But Sanders isn’t always to the left of other Democratic candidates for president.

He’s disagreed with Warren and Harris on paying reparations to the descendants of slaves. And he doesn’t agree with calls from progressive grass-roots groups to add more seats to the Supreme Court or to eliminate the Senate filibuster.

But on the issue of health care, several Democratic candidates have not been ready to embrace Medicare for all, shuddering at the idea of eliminating private insurance, which covers 67 percent of Americans with health insurance plans. Some also worry about how much a plan that covers everyone in the U.S. would cost, with some estimates putting it as high as $32 trillion over 10 years.

“Eliminating private health plans will decrease access and quality in health care and doom any chance of creating a universal health care system, yet it remains the type of talking point that may sound good but is bad policy,” said John Delaney, a former Democratic representative from Maryland who is running for president.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who launched his campaign last month, supports the Medicare for America Act, which would keep employer-sponsored insurance but replace other federal health programs including ObamaCare.

Democratic leaders in Congress, meanwhile, think the focus for now should stay on protecting and strengthening ObamaCare, as the Trump administration seeks to dismantle it in court.

“We all share the common goal of affordable, quality health care coverage for all,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday at the American Hospital Association conference in Washington.

“There are many paths to this goal. You’ve heard of some of them. Medicare for all. Single-payer. Whatever it is. All that creative tension is valuable as we go forward. We can’t go down any path unless we strengthen the Affordable Care Act.”

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Cory Booker Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton John Delaney Kirsten Gillibrand Michael Bennet Nancy Pelosi

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