Where Democratic presidential candidates stand on health care reform

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, we return to a new series
we’re launching on the policy positions of the 2020 presidential candidates. Tonight, Lisa Desjardins explores the various
approaches to reforming health care coverage that some prominent contenders are advocating. First, some background. LISA DESJARDINS: In the big-name, big-field
Democratic race for president, health care is the biggest issue. SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), Presidential Candidate:
We want health care as a right, and not a privilege. LISA DESJARDINS: Much of it echoing one candidate. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), Presidential Candidate:
Is health care a human right, or is it not? LISA DESJARDINS: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’
Medicare for all legislation is co-sponsored by no less than four other senators and one
congresswoman for president. The Sanders bill would create one government-run
health care system, ending private health insurance. Medicare and Medicaid enrollees would transition
into the new system. It wouldn’t impact the Veterans Affairs or
Indian Health Services coverage. But even as the most Democratic contenders
so far seem to agree, look carefully. There is divide over how far to go and how
fast. The day he announced his presidential run,
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, when asked, said he wouldn’t end private health insurance. SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), Presidential Candidate:
Even countries that have vast access to publicly offered health care still have private health
care, so, no. LISA DESJARDINS: Also in favor of keeping
private health insurance are Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren
of Massachusetts, that vs. California Senator Kamala Harris, who told a CNN town hall in
January she does want to end private insurance. SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), Presidential Candidate:
I believe the solution — and I actually feel very strongly about this — is that we need
to have Medicare for all. That’s just the bottom line (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) LISA DESJARDINS: Later, her communications
team walked that back, saying she is open to other plans as well. Fully government-run health care is the broadest
idea, but many Democratic candidates also support smaller takes on that, like expanding
Medicare to start 10 years earlier, at age 55, or offering a so-called public option,
which would be a government-run health insurance plan, possibly like Medicare. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg told “NewsHour”‘s
Judy Woodruff he likes a government option now as a first step. PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), Mayor of South Bend, Indiana:
take a version of Medicare or something like it, make it available as a public option on
the exchange. Then this will be a very natural glide path
to a single-payer environment. LISA DESJARDINS: Meanwhile, polling shows
this is good political territory for Democrats. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey last month
showed a majority, 56 percent, of Americans they surveyed favor a Medicare-for-all style
national health plan, while 42 percent oppose. A whopping 77 percent support lowering the
Medicare buy-in age to 50. Put Minnesota Senator Amy Klobachar in the
camp of too soon for full-blown government run health care. SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), Presidential Candidate:
I think it’s something that we actually wanted to do back when we were looking at the Affordable
Care Act, and we were stopped, was trying to get a public option in there. LISA DESJARDINS: All of this is a shift left
from recent years. For example, the Affordable Care Act passed
in 2010 after Democrats dropped the idea of a public option. For much of the country, it’s also changed
from last year, when most Democrats running for Congress focused on saving the Affordable
Care Act and its protections for sick people. Now the conversation on the Democratic presidential
trail is about expanding past, sometimes far past, the Affordable Care Act. The candidates have some different takes on
health care. And to talk about that, Dylan Scott joins
us. He covers health care and domestic policy
for Vox. Let’s jump right into the terminology, which
I think could become an issue for the next year. We hear Medicare for all. We hear universal health care. Is it clear that those terms mean the same
things to all of these candidates? DYLAN SCOTT, Vox: Well, I think it is important
to be clear that there is a bill in the United States Senate called the Expand and Improve
Medicare for All Act that Bernie Sanders has put forward. And that would institute a single-payer national
health insurance program that every American would be covered under. So that is the legislation that, when Bernie
Sanders talks about Medicare for all, that’s what he means. But Medicare for all has also taken on a bit
of a life of its own. It’s become a slogan that I think signifies
that we want to expand health care access, we want more people to be able to join Medicare
if they want to. But, for some people, the not — maybe the
people who aren’t true believers in single-payer health care, it’s become more of an effective
branding to talk about universal health care, as opposed to a specific policy proposal that’s
been written into legislative text. LISA DESJARDINS: That leads exactly to my
next question. We have almost every candidate from Congress
who’s a Democrat backing Bernie Sanders’ plan, technically. Do we know, if president, if these people
would actually enact that? It seems like it might not be their first
choice. How do you break down what they really want
to do? DYLAN SCOTT: So I think of the Democratic
candidates in a couple different buckets. You have the true believers, the Bernie Sanders,
who say Medicare for all, single-payer is where we need to go, and that’s the bill we
should be putting up on the — up in Congress in 2021, if we get control of the White House
and the Senate and the House. But there’s another bucket of Democrats who
are a little more flexible, let’s say. They — they have endorsed the Bernie Sanders
bill. They say their goal is to get to a Medicare
for all system. But in the near term, they will talk about
shoring up the Affordable Care Act, tackling prescription drug prices. And then over a little longer-term time horizon,
they’re more willing to take incremental steps to get to a Medicare for all system. Then, you do have a third bucket of Democrats
who don’t want anything to do with this. They’re aware of some of the attacks that
will be made against the Medicare for all program, like it’ll lead to higher taxes,
less access, the socialist takeover of the medical system. For Democratic voters, the interesting question
will be, is it important to have a kind of absolutist approach, where we must have single-payer? Or do they like hearing that your goal is
to expand health care access, but they’re not as caught up on the details of how you
get there? LISA DESJARDINS: There’s also some political
calculation here, right? If someone goes too far to the left in the
primary, can they win in the general? What do we know about the overall population
and what the Americans in general want for health care? DYLAN SCOTT: Voters are comfortable with a
pretty robust government role in providing health care access to our population. Now, whether that means they’re really interested
in a single-payer program, I think, is the great undetermined question. When you talk to pollsters, they will actually
say, I don’t think Americans really know what they think about single-payer yet. We do like the idea of everybody having access
to health care, and we’re comfortable with the government having a big role in providing
it. But people get a little antsy if they — if
they hear that, well, everybody is going to be forced into this government insurance program. They like the idea of choice. Now, whether that choice is, can I choose
the insurance carrier and the insurance card that I keep in my wallet, or whether the more
important choice is about what doctor I can go see and what hospital will take my insurance,
I think that’s one of the things that we’re still figuring out. Americans like the idea of universal health
care, but higher taxes obviously make Americans nervous. The idea that they might lose some choice
makes Americans nervous. And so I think what remains to be seen is
whether they’re as committed as the Bernie Sanders of the world to a national health
insurance program that’s comparable to something like Canada, or whether they would be OK with
more incremental steps. But the idea of disrupting a system that’s
mostly working for them makes them more nervous than anything else. LISA DESJARDINS: And we’re also waiting to
see in some cases how these candidates would pay for their plans, right? DYLAN SCOTT: Yes. That’s the issue nobody really wants to touch. LISA DESJARDINS: Dylan Scott, we will ask
you about it hopefully in the future. Thank you for joining us. DYLAN SCOTT: Thank you.

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