As Elizabeth Warren has risen in the polls, pressure has built on the on-again, off-again frontrunner to explain how she would pay for the Medicare for All system she’s co-signed. Those attacks ramped up in recent weeks, with rival Amy Klobuchar going after Warren by calling Medicare for All “a pipe dream” and Pete Buttigieg saying she’d offered more specifics on how many selfies she’s taken than she had on healthcare.
On Friday, Warren unveiled a 9,500-word manifesto laying out both her rationale for Medicare for All and the basic framework by which America could transition to it over a ten year period, without, she insisted, raising taxes even “one penny” on middle-class families.*
Her support stems from two beliefs: that no American should die or go bankrupt over healthcare costs, and that every American should be able to get the treatment they need, regardless of cost. The best way to achieve those goals, she says, is making our current Medicare system available to every American. It will be not be cheap, it will take a long time, and it will mean challenging powerful and deeply entrenched interests. But, she writes, “You don’t get what you don’t fight for.”
To achieve Medicare for All, Warren proposes redirecting $6 trillion that state and local governments are already spending on insurance, and making up the remaining $20.5 trillion by redirecting employer contributions currently going to private health insurance companies, upping taxes on the financial industry, “big corporations” and the very wealthiest Americans, and “a targeted cut to a Defense Dept. slush fund” — the Overseas Contingency Operations fund.
A Warren administration, she says, would also aggressively negotiate for lower drug prices, and if that doesn’t work, pursue “public manufacturing” to make drugs available to those who need them. The savings American families would keep after premiums and out-of-pocket costs are eliminated, Warren holds, would total $11 trillion. “That’s bigger than the biggest tax cut in our history,” she writes.
At points in her lengthy explanation, Warren took shots at the rivals who attacked her over her support for Medicare for All. “Every candidate who opposes my long-term goal of Medicare for All should explain why the ‘choice’ of private insurance plans is more important than being able to choose the doctor that’s best for you without worrying about whether they are in-network or not,” Warren writes.
Those candidates should put forward their own plans for universal coverage, Warren continues, and “if they are unwilling to do that, they should concede that they think it’s more important to protect the eye-popping profits of private insurers and drug companies and the immense fortunes of the top 1% and giant corporations, rather than provide transformative financial relief for hundreds of millions of American families.”
Warren’s plan also addresses a question that, frustratingly, has been much of the media’s primary obsession in the debate over Medicare for All: Would candidates raise taxes to pay for it?
Belying their attacks is the assumption that paying more in taxes is a fate worse than skipping insulin shots because you can’t afford them, losing health insurance every time you get a new job or, worse, lose an old one.
It also is a question that is applied extremely selectively — social programs that help people are subjected to more fiscal scrutiny, than, say, military spending or tax cuts or really anything else. Imagine, for a moment, if every time a Republican promised to cut taxes, the very first question was “which social services are you going to cut to pay for it?” Or if every single new military project needed a dedicated “pay-for.” Or imagine if every time someone defended the current system, the first question was about the 26 million people who lack health insurance right now, and why that’s an acceptable status quo.
Lack of health insurance will kill some of those 27 million people, yet somehow that fact always gets lost amid an endless focus on taxes and on a budget deficit we seem to be willing to expand for everything other than getting people access to a doctor.
Think about that the next time someone insists the mainstream media is full of leftists.
* Update: After the release of Warren’s plan, a number of tax experts have pointed out that asking employers to redirect some of their current spending on health benefits to the public plan would mean using current employee compensation to fund a public plan. That’s not a direct tax on middle-class workers, but the function is the same: Workers see some of their current compensation redirected to a government program, but — as in other Medicare for All plans — ultimately see their total spending on health care go down.