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Kamala Harris is out with her version of Medicare for All — a plan that’s not as aggressive as one championed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders but goes much further than the Obamacare tweaks proposed by former Vice President Joe Biden.
The California Democratic senator unveiled a policy proposal Monday morning that would keep a role for the private insurance industry and kick in over a much longer period than the bill proposed by Sanders. Harris’ plan would eventually replace employer-sponsored private health insurance over a ten-year phase-in period. But it would allow those companies to offer supplemental insurance, much as Medicare Advantage plans do now for current Medicare recipients. About one third of Medicare recipients have a supplemental plan.
“Medicare works. It’s popular. Seniors transition into it every day, and people keep their doctors and get care at a lower cost. Let’s not lose sight that we have a Medicare system that’s already working,” she wrote in a Medium post announcing the plan. “Now, let’s expand it to all Americans and give everyone access to comprehensive health care.
The plan keeps with Harris’ political positioning in the race: more centrist than Sanders or Warren but to the left of Biden, who she’s competing with for more economically centrist voters.
Harris’s healthcare proposal would go much further than Biden’s plan, which would instead create a public health insurance option to compete with the private plans and allow Americans to buy into Medicare. Sanders’ sweeping plan has been a north star for progressives pushing for dramatic healthcare changes, while Biden has aggressively pushed back, a fight both top candidates have been eager to have.
Harris’s proposal comes after months of questions about what exactly she meant with her repeated claims that she supported Medicare for All. At two different points during the campaign, Harris indicated she supported eliminating all private health insurance before walking those comments back. Harris has been a cosponsor on Sanders’ own Medicare for All legislation but has made it clear she’d have an alternate plan.
The proposal comes just two days before Harris is set to debate Biden in the second set of Democratic debates. Biden has signaled he plans to go after Harris and the other Democrats backing versions of Medicare for All by saying they’d be too costly and force middle-class tax increases. Sanders and Warren, who has embraced Sanders’ plan, will debate the night before them.
Polls show majorities of voters are skeptical of Medicare for All plans that would eliminate private insurance, though they’re popular with Democrats. It’s unclear how Harris’s specific plan would play out with the general electorate.
Harris’s plan would immediately allow everyone to buy into Medicare, and would cover all medically necessary services, including doctor and emergency room visits as well as vision, dental, and mental health coverage. It wouldn’t have significant out-of-pocket expenses for people.
Households making more than $100,000 annually would pay higher taxes to cover the plan, a difference from the 4% tax Sanders’ plan includes on household income over $29,000. Sanders’ plan also has just a four-year phase-in, and would bar any private insurance that duplicates what public insurance costs, essentially eliminating it altogether.
Cover image: Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during the National Urban League Conference, Friday, July 26, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)