Elizabeth Warren says she's got a detailed plan for almost everything, but she still lacks specifics on Medicare for All

Joseph Zeballos-Roig
elizabeth warren

Reuters


  • She says she's got a plan for everything: Criminal justice reform, breaking up tech giants, universal pre-K, student debt relief, and a tax on the wealthy.
  • But on the cusp of the third Democratic primary debate in Houston, Sen. Elizabeth Warren still doesn't have one on healthcare.
  • Rival campaigns are taking notice that a frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination has been slow to release specifics about an animating issue for primary voters.
  • Larry Levitt, the executive director of health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said Warren's views gives her plenty of wiggle room to change her message as the primary goes on.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

She says she's got a detailed plan for everything: Criminal justice reform, breaking up tech giants, universal pre-K, student debt relief, and a tax on the wealthy.

But on the cusp of the third Democratic primary debate in Houston, Sen. Elizabeth Warren still doesn't have one on healthcare.

Her campaign updated its website Thursday to include more information about her stance on Medicare for All, which it didn't have as recently as late August, according to the Wall Street Journal. The proposal for universal healthcare has caught fire within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party during the primary.

In the section, she doubles down on lowering the cost of prescription drugs, fighting the opioid crisis as well as extending access to rural communities. Yet Warren also called for "holding insurers accountable" when it comes to mental healthcare, which may indicate she may still see a role for private insurers in some way — despite that a single-payer system like Medicare for All would eliminate private health insurance.

Read more: Democrats are clashing over how to fix US health care. Here are the 7 key terms you need to know.

Rival campaigns are taking notice that a frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination has been slow to release specifics about an animating issue for primary voters.

"It's notable and it also raises a question considering health care is a top issue for voters," a rival campaign official who spoke on condition of anonymity said. "If voters are strong supporters of the single-payer Medicare for All bill, why should they support her over Bernie?" 

The same campaign official characterized the level of detail in Warren's position as "scant."

Warren has staunchly supported Medicare for All throughout the Democratic primary

Throughout the primary, Warren has been full-throated about her support for Medicare for All, which would abolish private insurance and instead make the federal government the main provider of health insurance for Americans. In a recent interview with progressive activist Ady Barkan, the Massachusetts senator reasserted her views on universal healthcare.

"I think of this as about our values. Health care is a basic human right," Warren said. ""What we're trying to do is make sure everyone is covered at the lowest possible cost. And that's Medicare for All."

At the first Democratic primary debate this past June, Warren put it even more bluntly: "I'm with Bernie on Medicare for All." Then she tag-teamed with Sen. Bernie Sanders at the second primary debate in July to defend their progressive ideas against the moderates onstage.

Read more: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren's progressive alliance can only last so long. Here's how the break could happen.

Sanders, the sponsor for the Senate Medicare for All legislation and a rival for the Democratic nomination, has put the plan at the center of his campaign. He thrusted the issue towards the mainstream during his 2016 primary battle against Hillary Clinton. 

Now Sanders and Warren have emerged as two of the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination, both inhabiting similar liberal lanes but with one key distinction. While Sanders is a self-styled democratic socialist, Warren has called herself "a capitalist to my bones."

Warren faces skepticism among progressive voters

Warren faces increasing skepticism among progressive voters about her commitment to Medicare for All. The Warren campaign didn't respond to Insider's requests for comment for specifics on her views. Last month, it similarly didn't reaffirm its support to Insider for the Senate legislation Sanders sponsored.

Yet Warren's approach may reflect that voters are wary of drastic change in healthcare. A poll recently released from the Kaiser Family Foundation found much stronger support among Democratic voters for candidates promising to bolster the ACA over those pushing for Medicare for All, 55% to 40%.

Larry Levitt, the executive director of health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said Warren's views gives her plenty of wiggle room to change her message as the primary goes on.

"This statement puts Warren clearly on record in support of Medicare for all, but it gives her quite a bit of leeway to define what Medicare for all really means at some later date," Levitt said of Warren's position via email.

Levitt also said while Warren clearly backs the sweeping proposal, "she has also co-sponsored public option bills and has said she sees multiple approaches as viable. She even has a bill of her own that would build on the ACA."

Her approach to healthcare is a shrewd political maneuver on Warren's part, political strategists say.

"By supporting Bernie Sanders' health care [plan], [Warren] gets the best of all worlds," Democratic political strategist Mary Anne Marsh told WBUR in Boston. "[She gets] all the progressives and all of Sanders' supporters [if he] doesn't win the nomination."

Read more: Democratic primary voters expect Elizabeth Warren to crush the third 2020 Democratic debate, while expectations of Joe Biden have taken a sharp downturn

On the campaign trail, there's no shortage of approaches to reforming the nation's costly healthcare system, ranging from the sweeping to the incremental. Former Vice President Joe Biden wants to shore up the ACA by injecting more federal subsidies for private insurance and add a public option allowing to buy a government healthcare plan if they choose.

Others like South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg are focusing on extending health coverage to rural voters and argue that a public option — which he has proposed as well — would eventually lead to Medicare for All.

As the Democratic primary field whittles down to fewer candidates, only time will tell where Warren ultimately lands on Medicare for All and voters are presented with clear visions for the direction of the nation's healthcare system.

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