Kamala Harris’s Disastrous New Answer on Medicare for All

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at a campaign stop in Concord, N.H., February 18, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Soon after Kamala Harris launched her presidential campaign back in January, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked her, at a televised townhall, the following question about Senator Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All bill (a piece of legislation that Harris is cosponsoring): “I believe it will totally eliminate private insurance. So for people out there who like their insurance, they don’t get to keep it?”

“Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on,” Harris said after making some brief comments about the problems with private insurance.

On Sunday, Harris appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” for her first interview with Tapper since January, and she insisted she had only endorsed eliminating health-care “bureaucracy” and “waste” in her previous comments.

“But the bill gets rid of insurance,” Tapper interjected.

“No, no, no, no, it does not get rid of insurance. It does not get rid of insurance,” Harris replied, insisting that “supplemental” insurance coverage would be available.

After Tapper pressed her some more on the details of the bill, Harris eventually seemed to concede that supplemental private insurance would exist only for things like cosmetic surgery that are not services covered by the government under Medicare for All.

So why did Harris insist in the first place that the Medicare for All bill doesn’t eliminate insurance? It is not a factual claim that is in dispute. As the New York Times has put it: “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 Medicare for All bill “outlaws the market for selling insurance that covers the same services included in Medicare for All. You can only sell private insurance that covers services outside of what is covered by that bill,” James Capretta of the American Enterprise Institute tells National Review Online. Sanders wants “to fight what occurs in most other countries, which is people opting out of the [single-payer] system through private insurance and going to privately run, privately paid doctors and hospitals that are a little better than the public utility system that everybody else uses.”

But Sanders at least forthrightly defends this policy, while Harris dodges and evades when dodging and evading can’t help her escape from the most basic follow-up questions.

During her CNN interview on Sunday, Harris did directly say she supports illegal immigrants’ participating in Medicare for All. But when she was asked about union members who had given up higher wages in exchange for better employer-sponsored health insurance, Harris said, “We have to address that. It’s a legitimate concern that must be addressed.” How exactly would that be addressed? Through government action? Harris did not say.

Capretta, for one, sees Harris’s caginess as a signal that “she’ll pivot away from [Medicare for All] as fast as possible” if she makes it to the general election. “I don’t think Sanders would pivot away from it. I don’t think Warren would pivot away from it, but I think she will if she wins the nomination.”

Right now, it’s not clear whether Medicare for All has been more damaging to Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign, or Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign has been more damaging to Medicare for All.

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