November 6, 2019 | Updates

Lawmakers Express Alarm Over Unaffordable Risks Of Medicare For All

WASHINGTON – As the unaffordable costs of Medicare for All continue to dominate headlines, “centrists and pragmatists … are starting to hit the panic button,” POLITICO reports.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): “I’m not a big fan of Medicare for All … I welcome the debate. I think that we should have health care for all.  I think the affordable care benefit is better than the Medicare benefit.”
  • Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH): In swing-state Ohio, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, a liberal populist, has previously referred to Medicare for All as a “terrible mistake.”
  • Representative Ami Bera (D-CA): “We need to put out proposals that can actually make it into law … We should be proud as Democrats all of our candidates are talking about how to expand coverage, but I don’t see Medicare for All of getting anywhere close to 218 votes in the House and certainly not 60 votes in the Senate.”

“[M]ost of the Democrats running to unseat Republican incumbent senators don’t support [Medicare for All],” POLITICO adds, while The Wall Street Journal reports that “some Democratic lawmakers key to holding the House majority worry that the health-care pledges … could hurt their re-election chances.”  They continue:

… Democrats won back the House in the 2018 midterm elections with a message focused on saving Obamacare … House Democrats and candidates fighting to win competitive seats say health care is the top concern of voters, but that a Democratic presidential nominee who backs Medicare for All could create headaches … The majority of Democrats who won GOP-held seats last year haven’t signed on to the Medicare-for-All legislation in the House.  Rep. Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat who won a GOP-held seat last year, says the policy “would maybe cause more challenges than it solves.”  Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, who beat a GOP incumbent last year, said she recently voiced her opposition for Medicare for All in a town hall meeting in her coastal Virginia district.  She received a standing ovation.

In a story headlined “Why 2020 Democrats are backing off Medicare-for-all, in four charts,” The Washington Post explains that “[p]olls show why they’re doing this.  On the surface, the idea sounds as if it would appeal to voters.”  But when voters are made aware of the many negative consequences of such a system, including the elimination of private insurance and need for higher taxes, support drops.  

Previous reporting has also made clear the political risks of embracing a one-size-fits-all system:

  • 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.”
  • 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.”
  • [A] majority of those [Democratic Members] who flipped their seats from red to blue focused on strengthening the 2010 health care law and protecting coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions,” Roll Call reports, noting the significant “risks for any politician that proposes dramatic change and uncertainty in a system that is central to Americans’ well-being.” 
  • “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 explains 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 reports that by “veer[ing] left,” Democratic presidential hopefuls are “leaving behind [the party’s] successful midterm strategy.”
  • And 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 … Noting that many voters were already uneasy about losing their coverage, [Michigan Governor Gretchen] Whitmer said, ‘I don’t think feeding into that is a good idea.’”

And these lawmakers join a growing list of Democrats who have recently expressed concerns about calls for a new government-run health insurance system:

  • Appearing on CNBC in September, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged her fellow Democrats to focus on building and improving upon the 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.”
  • Voicing his own concerns over the elimination of Americans’ choice and control under a one-size-fits-all system, Ohio Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) said on CNN“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, David Pepper, Ohio’s Democratic Party chairman, also spoke out against one-size-fits-all government-controlled health insurance systems, “arguing that Medicare for All – and ultimately abolishing private health insurance plans – could turn off many voters here,” CNN reports.  
  • 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.  And 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.”
  • 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.  
  • 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 former Democratic 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. 
  • And 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.



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