Universal healthcare is an imperative, not just for the United States, but every country around the globe. That a government doesn’t do everything it can to protect its residents—the very people that it calls on to protect the country itself—is a deplorable symptom of the illness that is capitalism. This shouldn’t be a debate; folks should not need to worry about making ends meet for the necessities to live. Diabetics shouldn’t worry about paying for insulin. Victims of an accident shouldn’t refuse to call an ambulance to avoid skyrocketing bills.
Any presidential candidate that calls herself progressive but then offers a universal healthcare plan that leaves the door open for private insurance companies is a centrist that would rather maintain the status quo than offer substantive change. The latest example is Kamala Harris and her much touted, riddled-with-flaws Medicare-for-all plan.
As Vox notes, Harris’ plan would allow private insurers to operate inside and alongside the government-run program. This is not unlike Medicare Advantage, a program currently in place for older adults that all but allows private insurers to overcharge their clients. This NPR story breaks down how private insurers have overcharged Medicare and taxpayers by $30 million in the past three years.
Harris insists that the role of private insurers would be heavily regulated under her plan. “Essentially, we would allow private insurance to offer a plan in the Medicare system, but they will be subject to strict requirements to ensure it lowers costs and expands services,” she said. The exact plan for those regulations remains unclear.
Regardless, the very presence of private insurers in this system stands at odds with the concept of universal healthcare. These companies act as political entities, preventing the government from lowering the eligibility age for Medicare to 50 recently, and siphoning taxpayer money regularly. How Harris’ plan accounts for a potential imbalance between folks on private insurance vs. government regulated remains unclear, as does what costs would look like for folks on those plans.
On the note of taxpayer money, Harris’s plan would only impose taxes on homes making $100,000 or more, with additional taxes on Wall Street stock, bond and derivatives transactions. This is likely not enough to accomplish the touted universal aspect of her Medicare plan, highlighting why private insurers stay in the picture.
Further, Harris’s plan would be rolled out over 10 years. That’s 2.5 presidencies, and even more congressional terms, resulting in the possibility of these plans being rolled back, altered or attacked. This suggests that the plan’s larger goal is one of incremental shifts, rather than comprehensive, sweeping shifts.
If you’re wondering what a better universal healthcare plan looks like, look no further than Bernie Sanders. His plan would basically eliminate private insurance, only allowing it to cover supplemental procedures such as cosmetic surgery. Sanders’s plan would tax all households making more than $29,000, and would be rolled out over 4 years.
Backers of Harris’s plan assert that hers is more feasible. In a statement, Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir panned her plan; “Call it anything you want, but you can’t call this plan Medicare for All. Folding to the interests of the health insurance industry is both bad policy and bad politics.” Harris notably backed Sanders’ 2017 Medicare-for-all single-payer plan when he reintroduced the bill to the Senate. She seems to have walked that support back, just like she’s regularly rescinded statements saying that she’d eliminate private insurers. Take a look at this video:
If her proposal highlights anything, it’s that Harris took the wrong messages from that plan and is instead seeking to capitalize on the buzzworthy qualities of progressive politics without actually offering them. Maybe that’s why she keeps promising the full elimination of private insurers on the national stage, only to roll that promise back in subsequent interviews, a method that is sure to catch the eyes of young progressives as she bows yet again to corporate interests.