Does Elizabeth Warren Support Medicare for All?

Elizabeth Warren's Issues page from her campaign website. Do you see anything about Medicare for All, or even about health care?

by Thomas Neuburger

Does presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren support Medicare for All? I mean this as an actual question. I don't know the answer — or I think I know and I'm not sure — and I'd appreciate it if someone pinned her down on this. In the meantime I've been seeing articles like this one from Jacobin, "Elizabeth Warren Has a Plan for Everything — Except Health Care," which suggest that she may not.

Let's start with the Issues page at Warren's campaign website. Unless I missed it, I found nothing about health care (see image at the top). The "Rebuild the Middle Class" topic includes strong proposals for antitrust enforcement, her Ultra-Millionaire Tax plan, universal childcare, and a plan for housing. Nothing though about addressing the health care crisis.

"Latest Announcements" lists 21 proposals ranging from "Economic Patriotism" and green manufacturing to the aforementioned "Ultra-Millionaire Tax." The only topic that seems to touch health care is this one:

Tackling the Opioid Crisis Head On: Every day, 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose. This is a public health crisis – and we need to start treating it like one. That's why Congressman Elijah Cummings and I are rolling out the CARE Act, a comprehensive plan that invests $100 billion over the next ten years in states and communities that are on the frontlines of the epidemic - to provide prevention, treatment, and recovery services for those who need it most.

An important proposal to be sure, but it's not a health care plan. The website appears to have no stated comprehensive health care proposal at all.

Her campaign appearances are not more clarifying. As Jacobin writer Tim Higginbotham observes:

Warren had several opportunities in the [March 18 CNN] town hall to address the health care crisis. Instead, she avoided the topic almost entirely. Even when discussing issues directly related to health care like repealing the Hyde Amendment and improving access to hearing aides, she neglected to propose a comprehensive policy solution. ...

[This] continues a disturbing trend with the Warren campaign ... you’ll hear the usual platitudes (“health care is a human right;” “everyone deserves access to care”), but you won’t hear her endorse a specific policy.

The March 18 CNN Town Hall is an excellent example of Higginbotham's observation. Below is Warren's complete response to a Medicare for All question. Note first that the questioner starts by worrying that the Medicare for All bill, which Warren cosponsors and presumably supports, would eliminate private insurance plans. Then noe that the question is succinct — "Can you explain how Medicare for All would be better for workers than simply improving the Affordable Care Act?"

I don't see an answer to that question in her answer (emphasis mine throughout):

QUESTION: 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 bills' elimination of private health insurance...

WARREN: Oh, yeah.

QUESTION: ... 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.

To interrupt for a moment: This is not an accurate statement of what Medicare for All is about. Medicare for All is instead an implementation of what she said earlier in this exchange, that "health care is a basic human right." Finding the lowest-cost solution among a suite of solutions is a neoliberal approach, not an FDR-style social insurance approach. But to continue:

WARREN: 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.

Does "everyone at the table" include the health insurance companies? Note, by the way, that of this list of options, none receives her endorsement; they are presented merely as possibilities. What would a President Warren actually do? We still don't know.

About this exchange, Higginbotham says: "Taking this answer at face value, it seems Warren sees herself pursuing an incremental approach that expands public coverage while preserving the private insurance industry should she be elected president. This would likely surprise many of her supporters, who might view her cosponsorship of Sanders’s Medicare for All bill as an endorsement of single-payer health care."

Apparently, Jake Tapper didn't see an answer in her answer either, so he follows up by re-asking the question:

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.

Quite simply, I don't hear in any of those words the support for Medicare for All that's widely assumed to be her position.

What is Elizabeth Warren's actual plan for addressing the health care crisis in America? Is it anything like the Sanders and Jayapal proposals, or is she shielding with words and options her actual preference, which sounds suspiciously like a free-market-with-regulation plan?

If the latter, she should say so, because currently it looks like she's obfuscating, a dangerous approach for someone with her otherwise progressive credibility. I think it's time Elizabeth Warren announced her actual position.

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