Last Friday, Warren tried again, releasing a second plan, a transition designed to all but immediately beef up health-care coverage by getting many people enrolled in what is essentially a public option, while still putting the United States on the path to the Medicare-for-all promised land in a reasonable time frame. At the same time, she lists what Margot Sanger-Katz at the New York Times described as “a long and detailed list of the things she would do if she couldn’t get Congress on board,” including expanding Medicare to include — finally! — dental needs and taking aggressive executive action on drug prices.
From the very first line — “I spent my career studying why families went broke” — this initiative sounds like it was developed by and made for the Warren who talked to families in bankruptcy and financial distress, and listened to them explain they did everything right and still found themselves caught in a cascade of unpayable bills. It’s the Warren who co-wrote a book of personal finance advice after publishing popular academic work outlining the forces aligned against American families because even as people said, “You are describing my life,” they asked, “What should I do?”
This is a plan that — finally — lets Warren seize control of her Medicare-for-all story. But will it be enough?
No small amount of attention in the Democratic primary has gone to health-care issues. There’s a reason for that. Many Americans face enormous strain when it comes to paying their medical bills, and, increasingly, they fear they can’t do that. The most common type of debt reported to a credit reporting agency is a medical bill. More than 10 percent of Americans claimed in a recent Gallup poll to have known someone who died because they couldn’t afford medical treatment.
Moreover, health insurance has, in many ways, been deteriorating for the better part of my adult life. Out-of-pocket expenses for people with employer-provided health insurance have increased by well over 50 percent in the past decade. Deductibles are forever increasing, as are premiums.
Medicare-for-all purists see these facts and make the reasonable conclusion that we need single-payer now. But if you are a student of human nature, you see another reasonable fear for many: that things can get even worse. Warren’s new proposal acknowledges this reality. Warren’s not going to immediately force you off your health insurance. If you love it, or are simply scared, you can keep it — at least for now. Instead, she will let people get their feet wet before they decide to plunge in.
It’s unlikely her opponents and their supporters will let her off the hook. Biden’s spokesperson, Kate Bedingfield, castigated Warren for wanting to kick “Americans off their private insurance” after the release of her financing plan, saying that Warren’s new plan “will deny Americans the right to choose their insurance” while also complaining the delayed vote on a full Medicare-for-all doesn’t “address the urgency of now.” It’s also likely true that, as health-care analyst Topher Spiro argues, Warren is being told to do too much explaining while Sanders is not getting asked about it enough.
To be fair, there’s also no doubt Warren’s made missteps on this subject. First impressions count. But the good news for Warren is that many voters, distracted by impeachment or any number of other stories in this ever-crowded news cycle, are not yet focused on the day in and day out of the Democratic primary. Warren’s got room and time to recover. Her initiatives will give people the chance to see how Medicare-for-all would work, easing the fear of change while still promoting it. It just might be what the doctor ordered.