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Democrats Brawl Over Medicare for All

Michael Rainey

Health care policy is shaping up as one of the key issues in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The topic dominated the first half-hour of the debate among 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls Tuesday night, with much of the discussion focused on the viability of Medicare for All.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders defended their plan for universal health insurance against charges from moderates led by former Rep. John Delaney that their plan was too radical because it would eliminate the private insurance that roughly 150 million Americans currently rely on. “We don’t have to go around and be the party of subtraction, and telling half the country, who has private health insurance, that their health insurance is illegal,” Delaney said.

In response, Warren and Biden argued that private insurance was part of the problem, raising prices while siphoning billions of dollars from the health care system that could be used for patient care. Warren also cut Delaney down to size with a devastating retort: “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”

How will they pay for it? The fate of private insurance isn’t the only point of contention Democrats have when it comes to Medicare for All, says Jeff Stein of The Washington Post. During the debate, the candidates also discussed the question of how to finance an ambitious new public program. Sanders has proposed a 4% tax on all households earning more than $29,000, but other candidates were vague about financing their own proposals for universal coverage. Warren ducked the issue by claiming that overall spending for middle-class families would go down once premiums and prices were taken into account.

“Clearly the candidates did not want the talking point that middle-class taxes would go up,” said Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Tax increases are a potent line against Medicare-for-all, though it would likely lead to the middle-class paying less for health care overall.”

Biden ready to jump in: An opponent of Medicare for All, frontrunner Joe Biden took aim at his more liberal competitors ahead of his appearance at the second debate Wednesday night. “Medicare for All would cost American taxpayers $30-$40 trillion over 10 years … of course it'll raise middle-class taxes,” a new Biden video says, according to The Hill. The former vice president has proposed to provide a public option that would enable Americans to purchase a government-run health insurance plan while leaving much of the current health care system, including Obamacare, in place.

Biden will share the stage Wednesday with Sen. Kamala Harris, who released a health care plan earlier this week that falls somewhere between Medicare for All and Biden’s more modest proposal. The Harris plan would allow Americans to buy into Medicare while maintaining a role for private insurers. The expanded health care system would be paid for by a 4% tax on households earning over $100,000 and new taxes on stock trades and offshore corporate earnings.

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