Was there anything different about last week’s Democratic debate? Bill Barrow, Will Weissert and Jill Colvin reported that the Democratic presidential candidates clashed in a debate over the future of health care in America, racial inequality and their ability to build a winning coalition to take on President Donald Trump next year.
The Wednesday night faceoff came after hours of testimony in the impeachment inquiry of Trump and at a critical juncture in the Democratic race to run against him in 2020. With less than three months before the first voting contests, big questions hang over the front-runners, time is running out for lower tier candidates to make their move and new Democrats are launching improbable last-minute bids for the nomination.
But amid the turbulence, the White House hopefuls often found themselves fighting on well-trodden terrain, particularly over whether the party should embrace a sweeping “Medicare for All” program or make more modest changes to the current health care system.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the field’s most progressive voices, staunchly defended Medicare for All, which would eliminate private insurance coverage in favor of a government-run system.
“The American people understand that the current health care system is not only cruel — it is dysfunctional,” Sanders said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden countered that many people are happy with private insurance through their jobs, while Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, complained about other candidates seeking to take “the divisive step” of ordering people onto universal health care, “whether they like it or not.”
Democrats successfully campaigned on health care last year, winning control of the House on a message that Republicans were slashing existing benefits. But moderates worry that Medicare for All is more complicated and may not pay the same political dividend. That’s especially true after Democrats won elections earlier this month in Kentucky and Virginia without embracing the program.
“We must get our fired-up Democratic base with us,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. “But let’s also get those independents and moderate Republicans who cannot stomach (Trump) anymore.”
The fifth Democratic debate unfolded in Atlanta, a city that played a central role in the civil rights movement, and the party’s diversity, including two African American candidates, was on display. But there was disagreement on how best to appeal to minority voters, who are vital to winning the Democratic nomination and will be crucial in the general election.
Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey said the party has sometimes come up short in its outreach to black Americans.
“For too long, I think, candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been a backbone of the Democratic Party,” Harris said. “You show up in a black church and want to get the vote but just haven’t been there before.”
Booker declared, “Black voters are pissed off, and they’re worried.”
In the moderators’ chairs were four women, including Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s liberal darling, and Ashley Parker, a White House reporter for The Washington Post. It was only the third time a primary debate has been hosted by an all-female panel.
Buttigieg — who was a natural target given his recent rise in the polls to join Biden, Warren and Sanders among the crowded field’s front-runners — was asked early about how being mayor of a city of 100,000 residents qualified him for the White House.
“I know that from the perspective of Washington, what goes on in my city might look small,” Buttigieg said. “But frankly, where we live, the infighting on Capitol Hill is what looks small.”
Klobuchar argued that she has more experience enacting legislation and suggested that women in politics are held to a higher standard.
“Otherwise we could play a game called ‘Name your favorite woman president,’ which we can’t do because it has all been men,” she said.
Another memorable exchange occurred when Biden — who didn’t face any real attacks from his rivals — was asked about curbing violence against women and responded awkwardly.
“We have to just change the culture,” he said. “And keep punching at it. And punching at it. And punching at it.”
Harris scrapped with another low polling candidate: Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has criticized prominent Democrats, including 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I think that it’s unfortunate that we have someone on the stage who is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States who during the Obama administration spent four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Obama,” Harris said.
“I’m not going to put party interests first,” Gabbard responded.
But the discussion kept finding its way back to Medicare for All, which has dominated the primary — especially for Warren. She released plans to raise $20-plus trillion in new government revenue for universal health care. But she also said implementation of the program may take three years — drawing criticism both from moderates like Biden and Buttigieg, who think she’s trying to distance herself from an unpopular idea, and Sanders supporters, who see the Massachusetts senator’s commitment to Medicare for All wavering.
Sanders made a point of saying Wednesday that he’d send Medicare for All legislation to Congress during the first week of his administration.
Booker faced especially intense pressure Wednesday since he’s yet to meet the Democratic National Committee’s polling requirements for the December debate in California. He spent several minutes arguing with Warren about the need to more appropriately tax the wealthy, but also called for “building wealth” among people of color and other marginalized communities.
“We’ve got to start empowering people,” Booker said.
Businessman Andrew Yang was asked what he would say to Russian President Vladimir Putin if he got the chance — and joked about that leader’s cordial relationship with Trump.
“First of all, I’d say I’m sorry I beat your guy,” Yang said with a grin, drawing howls of laughter from the audience.
Is Warren retreating on Medicare-for-all?
Almost one week before the fifth Democratic presidential debate, Elizabeth Warren released the latest plan in her slew of policy proposals: An outline detailing how, if elected, she would gradually shift the U.S. toward a single-payer health care system.
“I have put out a plan to fully finance Medicare for All when it’s up and running without raising taxes on the middle class by one penny,” the Massachusetts senator wrote in a post introducing the plan. “But how do we get there? Every serious proposal for Medicare for All contemplates a significant transition period.”
It was a marked shift from her previous calls to quickly bring the country toward Medicare-for-all and, notably, included similar tenets laid out in the health care proposals of more moderate candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
In the transition plan, Warren said she would take several steps in her first 100 days in office to expand insurance coverage, like pushing to pass a bill that would allow all Americans to either buy into a government-run program if they wanted, or keep their private insurance. It would extend free coverage to about half of the country, including children and poor families. She would also lower the eligibility age for Medicare to 50 and let young people buy into a “true Medicare-for-all” option.
“Combining the parts into a whole reveals a bit of a mess,” wrote David Dayen of The American Prospect, a progressive magazine. “After putting forward a comprehensive cost control and financing bill, Warren split that apart and asked people to accept two bruising fights to get to her purported end goal. It’s reasonable for people to see that as a bait and switch.”
Rivals portrayed the move as a retreat from one of her most high-profile positions on an issue that voters repeatedly rank as one of the most important. A campaign spokesperson for Biden called the senator’s health stance “problematic,” while Buttigieg’s spokeswoman Lis Smith criticized the latest measure as a “transparently political attempt to paper over a very serious policy problem.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has wholeheartedly pledged to fight for a single-payer health system, took a swipe at Warren when accepting an endorsement on Friday from the largest nurses’ union in the country.
“Some people say we should delay that fight for a few more years — I don’t think so,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “We are ready to take them on right now, and we’re going to take them on Day One.”
The similarities come as Warren, who experienced a somewhat momentous surge in the polls, has begun to falter. In early October, her national polling climbed to 28 percent, according to a Fox News poll, but since then, her numbers have steadily declined. In the latest Iowa poll, Buttigieg pulled ahead of Warren by a staggering nine percentage points, indicating the 37-year-old could be a serious contender.
The timing of the seeming loss of campaign momentum appears to be tied to the release of her sweeping Medicare-for-all proposal at the beginning of November. Warren said it could be paid for with a series of taxes, largely via new levies on Wall Street and the ultra-wealthy (and, she’s repeatedly stressed, none on the middle class).
According to a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Cook Political Report, while universal coverage is popular with a majority of Democratic voters, almost two-thirds of voters in key swing states said a national health plan in which all Americans receive their health coverage through a single-payer system was not a good idea.
It also precludes the start of the next debate in Georgia, during which Warren will very likely face fierce criticism and scrutiny over her $20 trillion Medicare-for-all plan and remember the cost is really closer to$52-$72 trillion>
Still, Warren told reporters over the weekend that “my commitment to Medicare for All is all the way,” according to The Associated Press.
And Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the Washington Democrat who introduced the House version of the Medicare-for-all bill, called the plan a “smart approach to take on Big Pharma & private-for-profit insurance companies.”
Medicare for All’s thorniest issue is how much to pay doctors and hospitals. Any new system could become a convoluted mess if it goes wrong.
Earlier this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren unveiled her $20.5 trillion package to finance Medicare for All, a system that would provide comprehensive health insurance to every American and virtually erase private insurance.
If its details are made reality, it would be nothing short of a sweeping transformation of the way Americans receive and pay for their medical care.
The proposal attempts to address one of the thorniest problems that any candidate pushing for a single-payer system in the US faces: how much to pay doctors and hospitals.
Dismantling the current payment structure and replacing it with another would likely require some tough trade-offs, experts say, creating winners and losers when the dust settles.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently unveiled details of her Medicare for All health plan, a system that would provide comprehensive health coverage to every American and virtually erase private insurance.
If its details are made reality, it would be a sweeping transformation in the way Americans get and pay for their medical care. Its the only financing model for universal coverage that a Democratic presidential candidate has rolled out in the primary so far.
It attempts to address one of the thorniest problems any candidate pushing for a single-payer system in the US faces: how much to pay the country’s doctors and hospitals. Pay them too little, and you risk wreaking havoc on their bottom line — and possibly forcing a wave of hospital closures as some critics have warned. Pay them too much, and it becomes much more expensive to finance care for everybody.
“The challenge is that when you expand Medicare to new populations, they’re going to use more healthcare,” Katherine Baicker, a health policy expert who serves as the dean of the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, told Business Insider. “But that means there is going to be a substantial increase in demand for healthcare at the same time that you’re potentially cutting payments to providers.”
Warren has proposed big cuts in payments to many hospitals and doctors in her $20.5 trillion package to bring universal healthcare to the United States. Single-payer advocates argue that eliminating private insurance would lower administrative burdens on doctors and hospitals, freeing them up to treat more insured patients.
Several outside analyses of Medicare for All proposals suggest it can lead to considerable savings through negotiation of lower prices and reduced administrative spending.
The cuts in Warren’s plan are steep, because private insurers currently pay around twice as much as Medicare does for hospital care, according to research from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Warren’s reform blueprint sets them in line with the Medicare program. Doctors would be paid at the Medicare level while hospitals would be reimbursed at 110% of Medicare’s rate.
‘A recipe for shortages’
As a result, those rates would lower doctor pay by around 6.5%, according to an estimate from economists who analyzed the Warren plan. For hospitals, who are used to bigger payments from private insurers, the payments under Warren’s plan would be roughly enough to cover the cost of care, the economists said.
Baicker says the healthcare system may not be prepared to meet the rapid rise in demand, especially if payments fall at the same time.
“You’re going to see people wanting more services at the same time you pay providers less, and that’s a recipe for shortages unless something else changes,” she said.
That echoes a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released in May. It found that setting payments in line with Medicare would “substantially” lower the average amount of money providers currently receive. “Such a reduction in provider payment rates would probably reduce the amount of care supplied and could also reduce the quality of care,” the CBO report said.
Business Insider reached out to the five largest hospital systems to ask the possible effects of lowering payment rates to Medicare levels and whether they would be prepared to weather the transition.
Only one responded: the 92-hospital Trinity Health System based in Michigan.
“Trinity Health supports policies that advance access to affordable health care coverage for all, payment models that improve health outcomes and accelerate transformation, and initiatives that enhance community health and well-being,” spokeswoman Eve Pidgeon told Business Insider.
Pidgeon said that Trinity Health welcomes the dialogue around “critical questions” of financing and access to coverage, and would “analyze Medicare for All proposals as more details emerge.”
The healthcare industry generally opposes Medicare for All
“Trinity Health has a rich tradition of honoring the voices of the communities we serve, and we will continue to dialogue around policy proposals designed to improve affordability, quality and access for all,” Pidgeon said.
The healthcare industry generally opposes Medicare for All, arguing that it would lead to hospital closures and hurt the overall quality of care for Americans.
The American Hospital Association is staunchly against it. In a statement to Business Insider, executive vice president Tom Nickels called it “a one-size -fits-all approach” that “could disrupt coverage for more than 180 million Americans who are already covered through employer plans.”
“The AHA believes there is a better alternative to help all Americans access health coverage – one built on improving our existing system rather than ripping it apart and starting from scratch,” Nickels said.
Meanwhile, the American Medical Association, the nation’s largest physician organization, came out against the single-payer system, though its membership nearly voted to overturn its opposition in June, Vox reported. The group since pulled out of an industry coalition fighting the proposal.
While many big hospitals could face payment cuts, others could benefit, particularly those that mainly serve people with low incomes or who don’t have insurance.
“If you’re a facility serving a lot of Medicaid and uninsured patients today, you might come out ahead here,” Matthew Fiedler, a health policy expert at the Brookings Institution, told Politico. “But the dominant hospitals in a lot of markets that are able to command extremely high private rates today will take a big hit. I don’t think we’d see hospitals closing, but the question is: What would they do to bring down spending?”
Chris Pope, a healthcare payment expert and senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, said fewer dollars would ultimately mean a cutback in services hospitals would be able to offer. “The less you pay, the less you’re going to get in return.”
“What would likely happen is if you give a fixed lump sum of money, they would start dialing back on access to care,” Pope told Business Insider. “You’re just not going to be able to have a scan done when you need one done.”
The impact on hospitals and doctors
I have pointed these next few points before but thought that it would be worth mentioning again. The surging cost of hospital bills has fanned consumer outrage in recent years as people struggle to afford needed care and helped elevate support for some type of government insurance plan, whether its the more incremental route allowing people to simply buy into a public insurance option or Medicare for All.
In a preview of battles to come, Congress has struggled to pass legislation addressing exorbitant and confusing hospital bills, an issue with widespread public support and bipartisan interest that the White House backed as well, the Washington Post reported in September. Its movement grinded to a halt amid an onslaught of outside spending from doctor and insurer groups.
Dr. Stephen Klasko, chief executive of the Jefferson Health hospital system in Pennsylvania, said the political debate has oversimplified the difficult decisions that would need to be taken in moving to Medicare for All.
“They haven’t been willing to talk about what you would really have to do to bring a dollar and a quarter down to a dollar,” Klasko said, referring to candidates like Warren and Sanders who back universal health coverage.
The hospital executive said that while the nation’s healthcare system is “inefficient” and “fragmented,” slashing overhead wouldn’t necessarily improve the quality of care.
“This myth that there’s these trillions of dollars of administrative costs that are out there in the ether, that’s not true. Every dollar you take away is somebody’s dollar,” Klasko said.
He added that pricing reform on the scale that Warren proposes “is doable,” though there’s likely a caveat.
“It will change how consumers interact with the healthcare system and they won’t get everything they want,” he said.
I’m not sure that Medicare for All will be the Democratic party’s continual push as the debates continue and they realize that moderation to develop a health care system will be the only way to challenge a run against President Trump. I wonder when the rest of the Democratic potential candidates realize that besides the gaffs that former Vice President Biden makes, that improving the Affordable Care Act is the only strategy that may work.
Now I want to wish all a Happy Thanksgiving and hope that we all will appreciate all that we all have and as Mister Rogers said we all need to be Kind, and be Kind and also be Kind. Enjoy you Turkey Day!