A lot of people are gunning for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as she runs the gauntlet to the top of the Democratic presidential field.
So many wonder why Warren is “vague” on healthcare financing, as Senator Amy Klobuchar enunciated emphatically during the last TV debate.
It’s simple. Warren left herself enough wiggle room on healthcare to drive a Mack truck through so she can tack to the center for the general election.
She supports single-payer insurance, no question. But what does she think in detail about private health insurance, or how her version of Medicare for All will be financed?
“Understand,” the teacher repeats like a mantra. Costs will go down for average folk but up for the mega-wealthy and “big corporations”. Warren toes that line with great discipline and balance. Nothing on taxes.
Does she really want to abolish Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield, my insurance provider with the $5,000 deductible? Warren wants to wipe out that deductible, for sure. Wellmark I am not so certain about.
She senses the guide rails of electoral politics. Bernie Sanders she is not.
“I am a capitalist,” declares Warren, reared an Oklahoma Republican.
Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt or his cousin Teddy. That’s her platform: plain old progressive populist stuff built around anti-trust, reining in Wall Street and stitching a safety net for those of us left as capitalism’s flotsam. Nothing new there, really. What’s new is that the New Deal has become great again in the face of a bad deal for 99% of us. Electable? FDR was so electable they feared he might serve forever.
Facebook and Wall Street Democratic donors started freaking out when Warren’s Rosie the Riveter routine started catching traction in Iowa. The lead-off caucus state has seen Medicaid taken private by a Republican governor in a costly and disastrous way that starved rural nursing homes and hospitals, mental health providers and the working poor. It costs more than the state-run system did, for less service. Government can do some things better and cheaper, proven.
Healthcare costs are the number one issue for likely caucus-goers according to any poll – as it was in 2018, when Democratic women rode a wave into Congress. It was a leading issue for suburban women then, and it remains so.
Warren and Sanders are talking about offering a plan with no deductibles or co-pays or payment caps. Does that sound attractive to me, a small business owner, or to a union member who would rather negotiate for a fatter paycheck and profit-sharing? Yes.
So Warren raises her hand when they ask, “Are you for Medicare for All, even if it eliminates private health insurance?” No explanation is possible during the 12-candidate debate, just a lot of barking in 90-second bites.
And, when asked in an interview by Bloomberg in January, Warren said she supports the Sanders plan or any plan that gets low-cost, high-quality insurance to people struggling with huge bills. Our little newspaper’s health insurance premiums went up 24% last year. The critics assume farmers and welders are too stupid to do the arithmetic.
I spent more than $20,000 on healthcare (premiums, deductibles, paying for cataract surgical drugs not covered by insurance) this year. I am 62. I have a friend the same age with a nice state university policy who pays more than $6,000 a year. Each of us knows that if we spend the money more efficiently (eliminating duplicative claims processing, for example, or trimming unseemly CEO salaries) our out-of-pocket expenses will not go up. In my case, they would go down.
That is not an “existential threat to the economy”, as some call Warren and her raft of plans. It is a relief.
Her strategy is familiar. I tried to pin down Barack Obama in Storm Lake on his healthcare plans when he was campaigning in 2007 against Hillary Clinton, who had very detailed plans hashed out over years. Obama said businesses would pay for his universal health coverage plan and then begged off for the next reporter’s question. Of course, the Affordable Care Act did not resemble what the Illinois senator was describing that sunny day in the lakeshore park. He wanted a public option (Medicare for All, if you will) back then. It got shot down in the Senate by the insurance industry.
The entire Democratic field supports a public option now, including Warren. Sanders certainly would take it. Warren will not be buttonholed on healthcare tax questions to feed the attack-ad machine currently targeting Joe Biden with outright slander. That’s just smart politics.
Warren clearly is an existential threat to a gilded class vested in a system that drives working people bankrupt, or at least keeps them struggling and grateful just to have a $16-an-hour job that has a lousy health insurance plan.
She keeps climbing in the polls, and raising more money every day, while embracing with cheer the contempt of the malefactors of great wealth. People who never worked for their supper but spent a career clipping coupons should be freaking out. The rest of us can wait to see where she settles.
Art Cullen is editor of the Storm Lake Times in north-west Iowa, where he won the Pulitzer prize for editorial writing. He is author of the book Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper (Viking 2018).