Largest private insurance company slams 'Medicare for all' plans

Largest private insurance company slams 'Medicare for all' plans
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The CEO of the nation's largest health insurer on Tuesday sharply criticized "Medicare for all" proposals being debated by Democratic lawmakers and presidential hopefuls, weighing in on a major political fight ahead of the 2020 election.

Medicare for all would amount to a “wholesale disruption of American health care [that] would surely jeopardize the relationship people have with their doctors, destabilize the nation’s health system, and limit the ability of clinicians to practice medicine at their best,” UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann said on a conference call.

Wichmann said the costs of Medicare for all would “surely have a severe impact on the economy and jobs — all without fundamentally increasing access to care.”

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Health insurance companies oppose Medicare for all, as the most sweeping version of the idea would effectively eliminate the role of private insurance and replace it with Medicare, the government-run health insurance program.

Insurers have been actively working to prevent any version of such legislation from being discussed. They are pushing for lawmakers to work on more moderate proposals, like strengthening ObamaCare and repairing what Democrats refer to as the Trump administration’s “sabotage” of the health law.  

But Wichmann’s comments represent an escalation, as companies have been hesitant to wade directly into the scrum. Most of the work has been done by advocacy groups or lobbyists.

UnitedHealth was publicly called out by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio New study: Full-scale 'Medicare for All' costs trillion over 10 years MORE (I-Vt.), who is running for president, after CEO Steve Nelson was heard on leaked audio telling employees that the company was actively working to undercut support for Medicare for all.

“Our message to Steve Nelson and UnitedHealthcare is simple: When we are in the White House your greed is going to end,” Sanders tweeted last week.

Medicare for all has become a litmus test among 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, as well as progressives in Congress.

Most of the Democratic presidential candidates, mindful of the progressive base in a primary, have endorsed single-payer health care proposals, including Democratic Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Warren leads in speaking time during debate MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Warren leads in speaking time during debate Democrats wrangle over whether to break up Big Tech in debate first MORE (N.J.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio New study: Full-scale 'Medicare for All' costs trillion over 10 years MORE (Mass.), though some have also touted more incremental solutions.

Sanders, considered to be a top 2020 candidate, has made his Medicare for all plan a center point of his second presidential campaign, with no room for compromise or other proposals that would take incremental steps toward universal coverage.

But in Congress, legislation is a long shot. Democrats would need to win control of the White House as well as sizable majorities in the House and Senate to be in a position to advance any such proposal.

Democrats are also far from united on the issue. Some moderate lawmakers and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Democratic debate starts with immediate question on Trump impeachment White House, Pentagon, Giuliani reject House subpoenas MORE (D-Calif.) have expressed concerns about the cost, and Pelosi has shown little indication that a House bill would get a floor vote this year.

Sanders discussed his Medicare for all plans during a Fox News town hall on Monday night, receiving cheers when host Brett Baier asked the audience if they would be willing to give up their employer-sponsored insurance and switch to a government-run plan.

Wichmann said UnitedHealth wants to achieve universal coverage, but not at the expense of a government takeover of health care.

“The path forward is to achieve universal coverage, and it can be substantially reached through existing public and private platforms," Wichmann said.