July 19, 2019

Democrats Are Missing the Point on Private Insurance

“Are some of the top Democratic presidential contenders determined to stamp out private health-care coverage?

At both of last week’s debates, moderators pressed the candidates to raise their hands if they would “abolish [Americans’] private health insurance in favor of a government-run plan?” Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, along with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, all did so. Center-right pundits promptly howled that the Democrats were rendering themselves unelectable. Center-left journalist Jonathan Chait worried that Warren “may have just filmed the most effective attack ad against herself.” Harris almost immediately started telling TV shows she had misunderstood the question.

It was an entirely silly and needless kerfuffle, because this is a silly and needless debate.

Let’s start with what policies the Democrats are actually proposing. Sanders has already released a Medicare-for-all bill, which would basically have the government provide health insurance coverage for all Americans, the same way Medicare already provides coverage to retirees. Warren and Harris both say they support Sanders’ bill, and point to it as an example of their ideal health-care policy.

But here’s the thing: Sanders’ Medicare-for-all bill doesn’t ban private health insurance. What it does ban is any private health coverage that duplicates the coverage offered by the government. For example, if Sanders Medicare-for-all system covered hospital stays but not dental work, then private insurers would still be free to offer plans that cover dental needs. In fact, Medicare already bans any private insurers from offering the same coverage it offers. Canada’s single-payer system does this too.”

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