Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) is establishing a reputation as having the most progressive policy platform out of all the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. But according to a response she gave to the New York Times about Medicare for All, that reputation may come under closer scrutiny.
In a recent questionnaire, the paper asked roughly two dozen presidential candidates about a bevy of issues, ranging from global warming, to foreign policy, to whether or not its moral for someone to accumulate more than a billion dollars in personal wealth. But the question of whether or not candidates support Medicare for All — a proposal initially championed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) during his 2016 presidential run — has itself become a litmus test for candidates hoping to attract younger, more progressive voters.
When the Times asked candidates whether or not they would support implementing a single-payer healthcare system (in which the private, for-profit health insurance system would be scrapped in favor of a government-run healthcare system) as opposed to just expanding the Affordable Care Act, the question elicited predictable responses from Medicare for All opponents.
Former Congressman John Delaney (D-Maryland) — who was booed for a full minute at the California Democratic Convention for opposing Medicare for All — flatly refused to support single-payer healthcare. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) said “we’re going to need a lot of the systems that are in place now.” But surprisingly, Sen. Warren did not do as Sanders did and unequivocally call for the current system to be replaced with a single-payer system.
“There are a lot of different ways to get there. ‘Medicare for all’ has a lot of different paths,” Warren told the Times.
It’s unclear by what Warren meant about there being “a lot of different paths” to Medicare for All. She didn’t state that the current private healthcare system should be replaced, meaning that it’s possible Warren could be in favor of what’s known as a “public option” to private health insurance plans. This would mean that the government would offer its own health insurance plan to compete with other private plans on the market.
Other candidates, like South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and Washington state Governor Jay Inslee (D) are also in favor of offering a public option, according to the Times‘ questionnaire. But as Splinter‘s Libby Watson wrote earlier this year, having a public health insurance option while preserving the for-profit healthcare system would only be a marginal improvement:
Premiums… would likely be lower than private plans—a bit. The most recent CBO analysis of a public option was in 2013 and didn’t look at any of these specific plans, but found that premiums would only be “between 7 percent and 8 percent lower” than private plans on the exchange. The average monthly premium on the second-lowest cost silver plan this year was $406 before tax credits—though it’s much higher in some states—so you’re looking at saving about $40. Enough for a couple of pizzas in New York.
In a recent article, Vox laid out the differences between Warren and Sanders on Medicare for All, noting that Warren — a capitalist who believes in regulated markets — has stopped short of calling for a single-payer healthcare system on the campaign trail:
Warren has co-sponsored Sanders’s single-payer proposal, but on the campaign trail keeps her talking points on universal health care; she speaks about Medicare-for-all more in terms of expanding public options for health care, rather than eliminating private insurance altogether. It’s in stark contrast to Sanders, who takes every opportunity to explain and advocate for single-payer health care, making the case that the incentives cannot be truly in the interest of the patients unless private insurance is out of the equation.
As The Economist wrote in 2018, the United States remains “the only large rich country without universal healthcare,” and that healthcare costs in the United States can be “financially ruinous.” This was proven in a May Twitter thread from a pro-Medicare for All account that asked Americans to share stories about what “radicalized them” toward supporting a single-payer healthcare system. One respondent wrote that her father killed himself so he wouldn’t burden his family with the costs of treatment for his Parkinson’s Disease. Another wrote about how she left the pharmacy “in tears” because she couldn’t afford the $300 co-pay for six pills.
Currently, more than 50 million Americans get their health insurance through their employer. While 2020 candidate and Congressman Seth Moulton (D-Massachusetts) told the Times he’s not going to “force people to get rid of their private healthcare plans if they like them,” family premiums for employer healthcare plans typically cost around a third of a worker’s monthly income, according to a University of Pennsylvania/United States of Care report.
Both Warren and Sanders will likely flesh out their healthcare proposals in greater detail at the first Democratic presidential debates, which will air next week.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.