Warren Has Boxed Herself in on Health Care

Elizabeth Warren has made a name for herself by being the candidate who has a plan for everything. That is precisely why people have taken notice of the fact that the one area where she hasn’t proposed a plan is health care. The speculation has been that, while she is vigorously supporting Medicare for All during the debates, she is leaving the door open to support other plans down the road if that position becomes a liability.

Immediately after Warren announced her candidacy, she stated that the goal was universal coverage and that there were many paths to get there. Following the September debate in which she defended Medicare for All, she said that she supported a lot of plans.

But once again on Tuesday night, Warren repeated her vigorous defense of Medicare for All. Given that she has now done so in every debate, Walter Shapiro suggests that she might not be able to pivot.

In fact, the arena where Warren has been uncharacteristically vague is in failing to provide full details of her “I’m with Bernie” support for his Medicare for All. Her stance on the issue could be risky (particularly as she must win over upscale voters who might not want their private health insurance to be abolished). But, worse still, if Warren were to retreat now, it would seem like a patently political move rather than a principled one—which would undermine what makes her campaign so unique.

The candidate who has offered the best challenge to Medicare for All in the debates has consistently been Pete Buttigieg, with his “Medicare for All Who Want It” proposal. Here is how it is described on his web site.

Through Pete’s Medicare for All Who Want It plan, everyone will be able to opt in to an affordable, comprehensive public alternative. This affordable public plan will incentivize private insurers to compete on price and bring down costs. If private insurers are not able to offer something dramatically better, this public plan will create a natural glide-path to Medicare for All. The choice of a public plan empowers people to make their own decisions regarding the type of health care that makes sense for them by leveling the playing field between patients and the health care system. It gives the American people a choice and trusts them to set the pace at which our country moves in a better direction on health care.

Back in February, Warren said that “There are multiple bills on the floor in the United States Senate. I’ve signed onto Medicare for All. I’ve signed on to another one that gives an option for buying in to Medicaid. There are different ways we can get [to universal coverage].” But in Tuesday night’s debate, Warren referred to Buttigieg’s proposal as “Medicare for all who can afford it” and said that she would never support such a plan.

At this point, Warren is pretty much locked in to the Sanders Medicare for All plan. It grows increasingly difficult to imagine how she can back away from that position without destroying the image she wants to convey of herself as a “fighter.”

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.