Sen. Warren on Medicare for All: Last night's debate forgot to include a critical follow-up question.
Here's the transcript of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's response to a question about Universal Healthcare Coverage from a March CNN Town Hall:
Senator Warren, thank you so much for being here this evening and your tireless advocacy for universal health care. As a supporter of universal health care and an advocate for organized labor, I do worry about the current bill...that would eliminate the private health employer-based plans that so many unions have advocated for. Can you explain how Medicare for all would be better for workers than simply improving the Affordable Care Act?
WARREN: OK, so it's a good question. Let's start with our statement that we should make every time we start to talk about changes in our health care, and that is health care is a basic human right and we fight for basic human rights. And then let's put these in order, because I appreciate that your question starts with the Affordable Care Act. Let's all remember when we're talking about what's possible, let's start where we are and the difference between Democrats and Republicans.
Right now, Democrats are trying to figure out how to expand health care coverage at the lowest possible cost so everybody is covered. Republicans right this minute are out there trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They've got a lawsuit pending down in Texas where they're trying to roll it back. What they couldn't do with a vote, they're trying to do with the courts. HHS every day is doing what they can to undermine the Affordable Care Act.
So when we're talking about health care in America right now, the first thing we need to be talking about is defend the Affordable Care Act, protection under the Affordable Care Act.
Then part two. Let's make the improvements that are what I think of as low-hanging fruit. For example, let's bring down the cost of prescription drugs all across this country. We got lots of ways we can do that. We can import drugs from Canada where the safety standards are the same. That would cut costs dramatically. We can negotiate the prices under Medicare. That would cut costs dramatically. And I've got a proposal to help bring down the cost on generic drugs, which could be about 90 percent of all prescriptions. So let's get those costs down.
And then you know what you're going to hear from a consumer advocate, and that is we need to hold insurance companies accountable. And that means no tricking and trapping people on those insurance contracts.
And then when we talk about Medicare for all, there are a lot of different pathways. What we're all looking for is the lowest cost way to make sure everybody gets covered. And some folks are talking about let's start lowering the age, maybe bring it down to 60, 55, 50. That helps cover people who are most at risk and can be helpful, for example, to the labor's plans. Some people say, do it the other way. Let's bring it up from -- everybody under 30 gets covered by Medicare. Others say let employees be able to buy into the Medicare plans. Others say let's let employees buy into the Medicare plans.
For me, what's key is we get everybody at the table on this, that labor is at the table, that people who have to buy on their own, everybody comes to the table together. And we figure out how to do Medicare for all in a way that makes sure that we're going to get 100 percent coverage in this country at the lowest possible cost for everyone. That's our job.
TAPPER: If I could just follow up a little on Jay's question, so you are a co-sponsor of Senator Bernie Sanders' Medicare for all bill, and I understand there are a lot of different paths to universal coverage, but his bill that you've co-sponsored would essentially eliminate private insurance. Is that something you could support?
WARREN: He's got a runway for that. I think we get everybody together. And that's what it is, we'll decide. I've also co- sponsored other bills, including expanding Medicaid as another approach that we use. But what's really important to me about this is we never lose sight of what the center is, because the center is about making sure that every single person in this country gets the coverage they need and that it's at a price that they can afford. We start with our values, we'll get to the right place.
TAPPER: So, theoretically, though, there could be a role for private insurance companies under President Warren?
WARREN: There could. Or there could be a temporary role. Even Bernie's plan has a runway before it gets there, because it's -- look, it's a big and complex system, and we've got to make sure that we land this in a way that doesn't do any harm. Everybody has got to stay covered. It's critical.
Here's Warren's response to a question about Medicare for All from last night's first official 2020 Democratic Candidate Debate:
Senator Warren, you signed on to Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-all plan. It would put essentially everybody on Medicare and then eliminate private plans that offer similar coverage. Is that the plan or path that you would pursue as president?
WARREN: So, yes. I'm with Bernie on Medicare for all. And let me tell you why. I spent a big chunk of my life studying why families go broke. And one of the number-one reasons is the cost of health care, medical bills. And that's not just for people who don't have insurance. It's for people who have insurance.
Look at the business model of an insurance company. It's to bring in as many dollars as they can in premiums and to pay out as few dollars as possible for your health care. That leaves families with rising premiums, rising copays, and fighting with insurance companies to try to get the health care that their doctors say that they and their children need. Medicare for all solves that problem.
And I understand. There are a lot of politicians who say, oh, it's just not possible, we just can't do it, have a lot of political reasons for this. What they're really telling you is they just won't fight for it. Well, health care is a basic human right, and I will fight for basic human rights...
(a few moments later)
...the insurance companies last year alone sucked $23 billion in profits out of the health care system, $23 billion. And that doesn't count the money that was paid to executives, the money that was spent lobbying Washington. We have a giant industry that wants our health care system to stay the way it is, because it's not working for families, but it's sure as heck working for them. It’s time for us to make families come first.
Huh. Granted, she only had 60 seconds last night as opposed to the entire program centering around her, so she had to cut her answer down considerably...but that's quite a difference in tone.
I loved Warren's response in March; I thought it summed the up the situation and her position perfectly and was exactly in line with my own views on the topic. I'm a huge proponent of the "Medicare for America" universal coverage bill, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't be open to several other approaches...I just think that's the best one available.
So what happened last night? Easy: Over the past few weeks, as Warren has climbed in the primary polls and Bernie's numbers have started to fade, there began a concerted effort by his supporters to paint her as not being truly committed to his and only his vision of "Medicare for All"...namely, a bill which, quite by design and intent, makes enrollment mandatory for nearly 100% of the population (albeit phased in over a four-year period).
It was a clarifying moment for Warren, who has at times been more circumspect about health care even as she sells herself as the “plan” candidate on other issues. She told the New York Times in its recent candidate survey that “‘Medicare for all’ has a lot of different paths.”
The activist and ideological left, for whom Sanders is such an important figure, has seized on Warren’s equivocation. Tim Higginbotham wrote an essay in the socialist journal Jacobin titled “Elizabeth Warren Has a Plan for Everything — Except Health Care”.
On Wednesday night, though, she was unequivocal: “I’m with Bernie.”
The irony of this is that WHATEVER the Big Healthcare Overhaul Bill ends up being (and remember, all of this assumes a blue trifecta, with Democrats retaking the White House and Senate while retaining control of the House), it’s NOT going to end up looking exactly like ANY of the current plans on the table anyway.
Again, I may be a strong proponent of Medicare for America, but I still recognize that even if that becomes the basis for the final bill, there would no doubt be some changes made before it gets passed by the House, Senate and signed into law by a President Warren (or whoever)...and that's (probably) OK, depending on what those changes are.
If Warren feels a need to shore up her street cred with the "Medicare for All or Bust" crowd, that's fine, I suppose. I do wish, however, that one of the moderators had followed up with this question:
"I know you'd prefer Bernie's specific Medicare for All bill, but would you still be open to another variant if that's what it takes to achieve universal coverage?"
As long as Warren's response to that question is still in the affirmative, she remains my top choice.