By Dan Diamond and Christopher Cadelago, Politico–
Sen. Kamala Harris on Monday unveiled a plan to achieve universal coverage by growing Medicare with the help of private insurers, an effort that splits the difference with her chief Democratic presidential rivals and finally equips the California Democrat with her own signature health proposal ahead of this week’s debates.
“Medicare works,” Harris writes in a Medium essay posted Monday morning. “Now, let’s expand it to all Americans and give everyone access to comprehensive health care.”
Under so-called KamalaCare, which establishes a phase-in period of a decade, Harris has at last settled on a way to keep private health insurers in the fold after seesawing on the question since January — and she would do so by leaning on an existing and popular federal program.
Harris’ offering maintains her commitment to universal health coverage — demanded by her party’s base — while lowering the temperature among the guardians of Obamacare who fear that overreaching would wipe out their hard-fought gains. Kathleen Sebelius, who served as Health and Human Services secretary in the Obama administration and was consulted on Harris’ plan, blessed it as “a smart way to get to Medicare for All where all individuals and employers can transition smoothly into a system that covers everyone.”
But Harris’ proposal skimps on myriad details, including the plan’s cost, and will likely still face skepticism from progressives — worried about propping up insurance companies and the slower pace of change — as well as from conservatives and deep-pocketed health care lobbyists staunchly opposed to any form of Medicare expansion.
Health care has consistently been a top issue — if not the leading concern — among voters nationally and in the key early-voting states, but has bitterly divided the Democratic primary.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, a top Obamacare defender, has called to preserve a role for private insurers while creating a new government-run alternative, arguing that millions of voters prefer to keep their current private coverage. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont counters that all Americans should be enrolled in a single government-run plan, insisting that it’s the most efficient way to lower health care costs.
Throughout the campaign, Harris has publicly wavered on whether her health plan would eliminate private insurance, months of seeming reversals that exposed her to bipartisan attacks and criticism that she risked looking inconsistent or, worse, coming off as pandering.
After raising her hand at June’s Democratic presidential debate, suggesting she favored abolishing private health insurance, Harris the next day said she misinterpreted the question, which she took to mean giving up her own private plan to enroll in a government-run plan.
Seventy percent of Americans favor “Medicare for All” if given a choice between a government plan and private insurance, according to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. But just four in 10 support a mandatory government plan-for-all.
Slower than Bernie Sanders, but more ambitious than Joe Biden: How Harris aims to achieve universal health coverage.
Harris’ new plan breaks with her rivals who occupy the opposite poles of the debate by effectively proposing “Medicare Advantage for all” — permitting private insurers to continue selling plans, akin to the two-decade-old offshoot of Medicare — in addition to letting Americans immediately buy into the traditional Medicare program and adding new benefits, like more mental health services. As a result, Americans would be able to choose between the public plan or certified private Medicare plans. Harris also says she’ll immediately enroll newborns and the uninsured, an effort to quickly get to universal coverage.