July 12, 2019 | Updates

THE WEEKLY SCAN Key Stories: In The Debate On America’s Health Care Future

Good Friday afternoon, and welcome to the Weekly Scan. Here are some of the key stories you may have missed in the debate on America’s health care future:

In the early Democratic caucus state of Nevada, the editorial board of the Las Vegas Review-Journal notes that many presidential candidates who have declined to confirm on the debate stage that they would eliminate Americans’ employer-provided and other private coverage are supporters of Medicare for all legislation “that would do just that.” They write:

Many Democrat presidential candidates support “Medicare for All.”  They should offer the details before assuming it has widespread support.  A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found 68 percent of Democrats [incorrectly] believe Americans could keep their current insurance under Medicare for All … Nearly half of Americans have employer-provided health insurance.  A 2018 survey by America’s Health Insurance Plans found 71 percent are satisfied with that coverage.  But private insurance would be illegal under many universal health care plans such as the one proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders.  Four other Democrat presidential candidates, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, are co-sponsors.  Under Sanders’ plan, you couldn’t keep your employer-based plan.  You couldn’t even purchase supplemental coverage on any procedure that the government would otherwise pay for.  The government would outlaw private medical transactions …  At the first Democrat presidential debate on Wednesday, moderator Lester Holt asked 10 candidates if they’d support abolishing private health insurance as part of implementing a government-run plan.  The group included Warren and Booker.  Only Warren and one other candidate signaled their support.  Booker demurred, even though he’s co-sponsoring a bill that would do just that.

And after presidential hopeful Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was “again forced to clean up her stance on private health insurance,” Bloomberg examined the 2020 candidate’s “misleading” claims about what Medicare for all would mean for Americans’ existing health care coverage:

Kamala Harris says she supports “Medicare for All,” and she has cosponsored legislation with Bernie Sanders.  But unlike her Democratic presidential rival, she says the plan wouldn’t end private insurance.  That’s misleading.  The measure would outlaw all private insurance for medically necessary services but allow a sliver to remain for supplemental coverage.  It would force the roughly 150 million Americans who are insured through their employer to switch to a government-run program … Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said the intent of the Sanders bill is clear.  “As a practical matter, Senator Sanders’ Medicare for all bill would mean the end of private health insurance,” he said.  “Employer health benefits would no longer exist, and private insurance would be prohibited from duplicating the coverage under Medicare.”

While many candidates struggle to explain their support for a costly one-size-fits-all health care system,The Washington Post reports that by “veer[ing] left,” they are “leaving behind [the party’s] successful midterm strategy.”

Last year’s midterm strategy focused on what party leaders viewed as a sensibly moderate message designed to attract centrist voters.  In that campaign, Democratic congressional candidates … blasted Republican plans to take away federal protections for preexisting conditions in private insurance.  Butmany of the leading Democratic presidential candidates are running on a Medicare-for-all plan that would replace private insurance entirely for most Americans and raise middle class taxes to pay for it … Democratic strategists from the 2018 campaign agree there is a danger … “I wonder if we’re solving a problem that is not there and spending the vast majority of our political capital on it,” said Obama’s former campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt, who is unaffiliated in the 2020 race.  “Expanding upon and improving Obamacare accomplishes the vast majority of goals that Democrats are looking for.”

Labor leaders, meanwhile, are warning that a “Democratic nominee who supports replacing private health insurance with a government-run system would lose union voters in battleground states,” the Washington Examiner reports:

Labor leaders in heartland battlegrounds said rank-and-file members support former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which includes private plans, and are jealously protective of expansive health benefits won in tough negotiations with corporate employers … “We don’t support the ‘Medicare for all’ structure.  We certainly aren’t in support of a government-control, government-run system at the expense of those that currently have employer-provided, or union-negotiated, plans,” said Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Firefighters … Ditto, said Gary Steinbeck, an official with the AFL-CIO labor council in Mahoning and Trumbull counties in Ohio … “The members have a comfort level with private insurance, and to eliminate that would be a problem,” said Steinbeck, who spent a quarter century with United Steelworkers.  “It would definitely create a problem trying to get votes from labor folks.”

And, joining the growing list of Democratic leaders and strategists who are expressing serious concerns about the high costs and political risks of embracing a one-size-fits-all health care system, Democratic strategist Kristen Hawn “criticized efforts by some members of her party to ditch the Affordable Care Act in favor of a national government-run health care system known as ‘Medicare for All.’” Hawn told The Hill, “I think it’s very short-sighted for a lot of people to just say, ‘let’s throw out the ACA.’”

As a reminder, Democratic presidential candidates also acknowledged during their first round of debates that so-called “moderate” alternatives to Medicare for all – new government insurance systems like “buy-in” and “public option” schemes – would also lead to a one-size-fits-all government-run health care system, meaning they would ultimately hit Americans with the same high costs, unaffordable tax increases, loss of consumer choice, and diminished access to high-quality health care.  Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said: “The truth is, if you have a buy-in over a four or five year period, you move us to single payer more quickly,” adding that under such a system, “our step to single payer is so short.”  And Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-Ind.) emphasized that a “buy-in” or “public option” system “will be a very natural glide path to the single payer environment.”



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