Sen. Kamala Harris waded into the fight over the future of American health care on Monday morning — and promptly got pummeled by Democratic presidential rivals to her left and her right.
Officials with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign slammed Harris’ vision of “Medicare for All,” which includes a place for private insurers and would take a decade to phase in, as “terrible policy” and “terrible politics." Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign charged Harris with flip-flopping on her support for Sanders’ Medicare for All bill while still proposing a plan that would "unravel the hard-won Affordable Care Act that the Trump Administration is trying to undo right now.”
“This new, have-it-every-which-way approach pushes the extremely challenging implementation of the Medicare for All part of this plan ten years into the future, meaning it would not occur on the watch of even a two-term administration,” said Kate Bedingfield, a Biden deputy campaign manager. “The result? A Bernie Sanders-lite Medicare for All and a refusal to be straight with the American middle class, who would have a large tax increase forced on them with this plan.”
Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir, meanwhile, accused Harris of “walking away” from Medicare for All” and privatizing Medicare.
“Because you’ve got, in her mind, an introduction of even more insurance companies who can operate within the parameters of traditional Medicare,” Shakir said in an interview. “And that of course introduces more corporate greed and more profiteering within Medicare, and that only leads to bad outcomes. We know that.”
The spat, spanning the spectrum of the Democratic Party and coming on the eve of presidential primary debates in Detroit, underscores the central — and dangerous — role of health care in the 2020 presidential race. Health care is among the top issues Democratic voters want to see addressed, but any effort to reimagine the nation’s complex system invites blowback. Biden, Sanders and now Harris have all gone through it; among the top-polling candidates, only Elizabeth Warren has yet to offer her own health care plan, instead largely avoiding the skirmish by simply saying “I’m with Bernie” on health care when asked of late.
Under “KamalaCare,” Harris calls for building on an existing and popular government program, Medicare Advantage, over the 10-year implementation period — eventually allowing Americans to choose between the public plan and certified private Medicare plans to achieve universal coverage.
Medicare for All is exceedingly popular with the Democratic base, and polls show that a large majority of Americans support it — if given a choice between a government plan and private insurance. Far fewer Americans back a mandatory government health care plan for all.
Harris’ plan attempts to thread the needle between Sanders, who for years has pushed a single government-run plan as the most efficient way to lower costs, and Biden, who wants to preserve a role for private insurers while creating a government-run alternative.
Ian Sams, a spokesman for Harris, dismissed Shakir's charges about increased costs under Harris’ plan as “so factually inaccurate I don’t even know where to begin.”