WASHINGTON – Ahead of the Democratic presidential debate this week, 2020 White House hopefuls would do well to remember that the majority of Democrats would rather candidates focus on building and improving on what’s working, rather than instituting a one-size-fits-all government health insurance system, like Medicare for all, Medicare buy-in or the public option.

Polling has consistently shown that most Americans oppose Medicare for all once they know what it is, and most Democratic voters favor strengthening the Affordable Care Act over pursuing Medicare for all. 

Recent polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) finds that support for Medicare for all is 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.

Previous polling from KFF reveals that “majorities of Americans are unaware of the kind of dramatic changes that [Medicare for all] would bring to the nation’s health care system.”  CNN reports that few Americans support Medicare for all once they better understand its consequences, and even most Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would prefer our elected officials focus instead on improving and building upon what works in American health care.

Another poll conducted earlier this year by the KFF revealed that support for Medicare for all “drops as low as -44 percentage points” when people find out it would “lead to delays in some people getting some medical tests and treatments,” and “is also negative if people hear it would threaten the current Medicare program (-28 percentage points), require most Americans to pay more in taxes (-23 percentage points), or eliminate private health insurance companies (-21 percentage points).”

The Washington Post confirms this in a recent story headlined “Why 2020 Democrats are backing off Medicare-for-all, in four charts,” 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.  The Post notes:

But notice how support declines when people are told that such a program would require getting rid of private insurance … That question didn’t even dig into the potentially politically troublesome detail of how such a plan would be implemented.  Providing health care for all Americans would cost billions of dollars, so taxes on the middle class would go up.  A January Kaiser Health News poll shows a majority of Americans, 60 percent, flat-out opposed Medicare-for-all if that were the case … At the past two presidential debates, Sanders (I-Vt.) was the only candidate to clearly and explicitly acknowledge that the plan would require raising taxes …The other candidates seem to find it politically untenable to simply say, yes, voters’ taxes would go up, and then explain why.

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.

And while some continue to promote the public option as a more “moderate” alternative to Medicare for all, 2020 contenders and others readily acknowledge such an approach would lead to the same one-size-fits-all government-run system, and a flash poll conducted by Forbes Tate Partners on behalf of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future reveals that voters prioritize improving our current health care system over offering a new government insurance system, often referred to as the “public option.”

These polls help explain why a growing number of Democrats are backing away from these risky schemes.
 
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.”  According to Business Insider, Democratic candidates who had previously endorsed Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) Medicare for all plan have “begun tempering their endorsement for the sweeping Sanders plan, acknowledging that eliminating private health insurance remains unpopular with voters, according to recent polling.”
 
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.”  The Washington Post also noted recently that by “veer[ing] left,” Democratic presidential hopefuls are “leaving behind [the party’s] successful midterm strategy.”
 
Echoing these points, Former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and former Democratic Senator and Vice Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman recently joined other prominent Democrats who have warned against the dangers of Medicare for all. VICE News reports that “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?’”  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, current 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,” as the Washington Examiner reported.  And 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.  Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly made it clear she does not feel enthusiasm for 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?”

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