June 28, 2019 | Updates

Sen. Harris & Eliminating Private Coverage: ‘The Muddle Gets Worse’

WASHINGTON – After raising her hand during last night’s Democratic presidential debate in affirmation of her support for eliminating private health coverage – including the coverage millions of Americans receive through employers and have fought for through labor unions – U.S. Senator and 2020 hopeful Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is again attempting to walk back from that position.

As HuffPost reported Thursday evening: “After taking several seemingly contradictory positions on the issue in recent months, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) confirmed Thursday she supports abolishing private health insurance in favor of a government-run health care program for all Americans.  Harris joined fellow Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in raising her hand on stage at the first 2020 presidential debate in Miami when all the candidates were asked by moderators to indicate their support for winding down most private insurance in favor of ‘Medicare for All.’”

But in post-debate interviews Thursday evening and on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Friday morning, Harris stated that she understood the question to have been about giving up her own private insurance, adding further confusion to what is viewed as an already perplexing set of statements by the Senator as she struggles to explain her support for Medicare for all, which eliminates private coverage.  As Josh Kraushaar of National Journal noted: “The muddle gets worse.”

In a recent interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Harris repeatedly claimed that the Medicare for all legislation introduced by her fellow 2020 presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), of which she is a co-sponsor, “does not get rid of insurance, it does not get rid of insurance.”  But, fact checkers for The Washington Post found that when it comes to the elimination of private coverage, Harris’s “language is slippery.  She could more forthrightly admit that the health plan she supports envisions virtually no role for the private insurance now used by nearly 220 million Americans.”

Despite Senator Harris’s attempts to argue otherwise, there is no controversy as to whether Medicare for all, of which she is a co-sponsor, eliminates private coverage. “At the heart of the ‘Medicare for all’ proposals championed by Senator Bernie Sanders and many Democrats is a revolutionary idea: Abolish private health insurance,” The New York Times recently reported in a story aptly headlined:“Medicare for All Would Abolish Private Insurance. ‘There’s No Precedent in American History.’”

A recent analysis by NBC News notes that, under Medicare for all, other than for “a handful of items like cosmetic surgery … the only option is Medicare.”  Senator Harris’s contradictory rhetoric, they write, is “likely to confuse voters who want to know what happens to their health care if the single-payer bill becomes law.”  The Morning Consult reported recently that protecting Americans’ private coverage is “in direct contradiction to Medicare for All.”

Notably, national polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that six in 10 Americans oppose Medicare for all once they learn it would eliminate private coverage.

As HuffPost continues:

The question about Medicare for All had tripped up Harris at a January town hall hosted by CNN, when she first appeared to call for the elimination of private health insurance.  “Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on,” Harris said, a line Republicans quickly highlighted in their efforts to paint her as an extreme candidate.  But at another CNN town hall in April, Harris maintained that under Sanders’ bill, private insurance companies would actually still be able to offer some policies.  “There would still be access to supplemental insurance,” Harris said.  Harris attempted to clear up the matter during another interview in May with CNN’s Jake Tapper, maintaining that she didn’t intend to call for abolishing all insurance companies in January, even as she reaffirmed her support for Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal.  “What I meant is, let’s get rid of the bureaucracy,” Harris said of the January town hall.  When Tapper noted Sanders’ proposal would eliminate private health insurance, Harris again maintained: “No, no, no, no, it does not get rid of insurance.  It does not get rid of insurance.”  The concept of Medicare for All is widely supported by Democratic voters, though many don’t seem to understand exactly how it would work.  Two-thirds of Democratic voters think that people with employer coverage could hold on to their policies under Medicare for All, according to a recent study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.  In reality, Sanders’ proposal would prohibit the sale of private insurance that is “duplicative” of what the government plan would offer, as HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn wrote earlier this month: That would effectively wipe out existing employer policies.  Private insurers could still offer supplemental plans, but only to pay for extras, like cosmetic surgery and premium hospital rooms, that the government plan didn’t cover.  Public opinion regarding Medicare for All changes depending on how it is described to voters.  When respondents in one recent poll heard that Medicare for All would eliminate private insurance, for example, support dropped dramatically, with just 37% favoring it and 58% opposing.

And as Medicare for all “falters” in Congress, some elected officials and 2020 presidential hopefuls are turning to so-called “moderate” fallback proposals – often branded “public option” or “Medicare buy-in.”  In reality, these proposed government insurance schemes would lead to the same result Americans reject: a one-size-fits-all health care system run by Washington.

The Wall Street Journal reports that these government insurance systems represent “stepping stones to single payer,” a fact acknowledged by supporters of such proposals, including on the DNC debate stage this week, as well as Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who recently admitted it would bring about the “slow death” of employer-provided and other private coverage and serve as an “on ramp to a single-payer system.”

Recent studies present dire warnings about the ways a new government insurance system would harm providers and patients.  One study found that “[f]or hospitals, the introduction of a public plan that reimburses providers using Medicare rates would compound financial stresses they are already facing, potentially impacting access to care and provider quality.”  Another study found that government insurance systems such as “buy-in” or “public option” could force hospitals to limit the care they provide, produce significant “layoffs” and “potentially force the closure of essential hospitals.”



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