September 25, 2019 | Updates

Key Democratic Voices Continue To Warn About Medicare For All

WASHINGTON – As the unaffordable costs and harmful consequences of new government-controlled health insurance systems – including Medicare for all, Medicare buy-in and the public option – continue to be made clear, more and more prominent Democrats are sounding alarm bells about the political and practical risks associated with these new systems.

Appearing on CNBC last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged her fellow Democrats to focus on building and improving upon the Affordable Care Act (ACA), rather than eliminating every American’s current coverage in order to start from scratch with a one-size-fits-all Medicare for all system.  Pelosi said, “I believe the path to ‘health care for all’ is a path following the lead of the Affordable Care Act … Let’s use our energy to have health care for all Americans, and that involves over 150 million families that have it through the private sector.”
In recent months, Pelosi has repeatedly made it clear she does not favor scrapping our entire health care system and starting over from scratch with Medicare for all, saying“All I want is the goal of every American having access to health care … You don’t get there by dismantling the Affordable Care Act,” and exclaiming to Rolling Stone“And by the way, how’s it gonna be paid for?”
Voicing his own concerns over the elimination of Americans’ choice and control under a one-size-fits-all system, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) said on CNN this week: “Do you like what you have?  If you do, the federal government and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and others shouldn’t be coming into your home and saying you have to get on this other alternative government program.”  Meanwhile, former top Obama administration official Gene Sperling encouraged Democrats “to focus on your end goal, which is affordable health care …  Don’t get locked into my way or the highway on how to get there.”
Ryan and Sperling join a growing list of Democrats who have recently expressed concerns about calls for a new government-run health insurance system:
Appearing on ABC, President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel called Medicare for all “an untenable position,” as it would “eliminate 150 million people’s health care.”  Earlier this year, President Barack Obama “warned a group of freshman House Democrats … about the costs associated with some liberal ideas popular in their ranks, encouraging members to look at price tags” in what was widely seen as “a cautionary note about Medicare-for-all,” The Washington Post reported.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), cautioned that a nominee who embraces a one-size-fits-all system “may hurt the party in the general election,” the Washington Examiner reported.  And VICE News reports that former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid “was blunt when asked if he thought supporting Medicare for All would be problematic in the 2020 general election.  ‘Of course it would be,’ he said.  ‘How are you going to get it passed?’” 

Meanwhile Vice Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman added that while “Medicare-for-all sounds good as a slogan – it will cost an enormous amount of money.  Bernie Sanders himself said everybody’s taxes, including the middle class, will go up … Don’t do something so big that it will turn against them next year.”

Previously, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairwoman Rep. Cheri Bustos said to The Hill  that “the $33 trillion price tag for Medicare for all is a little scary,” adding “it’s just hard to conceive how that would work,” a sentiment she later doubled down on in an interview with CNN.  The Washington Examiner notes that “Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, also has drawn attention to the cost” of Medicare for all.

And The Washington Post previously reported that “Democrats in swing districts are increasingly worried that the outspoken embrace of Medicare-for-all by Bernie Sanders and other top Democratic presidential hopefuls could hurt their chances of keeping the House in 2020,” while The New York Times reports that some Democratic governors are “anxious” and “alarmed that their party’s presidential candidates are embracing policies they see as unrealistic and politically risky.  And they are especially concerned about proposals that would eliminate private health insurance.”

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and a former Hillary Clinton aide, told The Washington Post“[w]hat 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.”

Polling shows that a new government-controlled health insurance system is not only bad policy, but also bad politics:

  • national poll released this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation “probes Democrats’ views about the general approaches to expanding health coverage and lowering costs” and finds that “[m]ost Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (55%) say they prefer a candidate who would build on the Affordable Care Act to achieve those goals.  Fewer (40%) prefer a candidate who would replace the ACA with a Medicare-for-all plan.”  A separate poll released by Kaiser in July found support for Medicare for all on the decline, as “a larger share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would prefer lawmakers build on the existing ACA” and “the share of Democrats who now say they ‘strongly favor’ a national Medicare-for-all plan is down” 12 percentage points in the three months since Kaiser last asked the question.
  • And Voter Vitals – a new quarterly tracking poll conducted nationwide and in 2020 battleground states – finds that a majority of Democratic voters are unwilling to pay any more in taxes for universal coverage and a supermajority of Democrats (69 percent) support building and improving on what we have today over new government insurance systems. “A majority of Democratic, swing, and Republican voters are clear that they are not willing to pay any more in taxes for universal coverage.  They’re looking for health care policies that lower rising health care costs more than anything else,” said Phillip Morris, Partner of Locust Street Group, who conducted the survey on behalf of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future.

Pushing a new government-controlled health insurance system is also a major departure from Democrats’ successful 2018 campaign platform:

  • As The Washington Post reports, by “veer[ing] left,” Democratic presidential hopefuls are “leaving behind [the party’s] successful midterm strategy.”  In fact, not a single one of the 11 Democratic candidates who won in House districts where a majority of voters supported Republican presidential candidates in the past decade ran on support for Medicare for all, and 74 percent of all House Democrats who won seats in Republican-leaning districts did not run on support for Medicare for all.  Instead, Democrats netted 40 U.S. House seats largely on an agenda of protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions and other policies aimed at preserving and strengthening our current health care system.
  • “None of the people that were able to win in tough districts in 2018 ran on Medicare-for-all, and the reason is that they can’t,” Matt Bennett of the centrist Democratic group Third Way explained to CNN.  “People in those districts don’t support it.”  As one Democratic strategist put it to The New York Times“Most of the freshmen who helped take back the House got elected on: ‘We’re going to protect your health insurance even if you have a pre-existing condition,’ not ‘We’re going to take this whole system and throw it out the window.’”
  • The Washington Post also reports that “Democrats in swing districts are increasingly worried that the outspoken embrace of Medicare-for-all by Bernie Sanders and other top Democratic presidential hopefuls could hurt their chances of keeping the House in 2020,” while The Hill reports that “[c]entrist Democrats who helped their party win back the House majority with victories in key swing districts last fall are sounding the alarm that the liberal push for ‘Medicare for all’ could haunt them as they try to defend their seats and keep control of the House.”



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