Entrepreneur Andrew Yang has had unexpected staying power in the Democratic presidential primary thanks in part to the enthusiasm for his plan to provide every American with a basic income of $1,000 a month.
But the boldness of his signature idea only serves to underscore the unambitiousness of the health care plan he released earlier this month.
In fact, Yang’s health plan, which he bills as an iteration of the left’s preferred “Medicare for All” policy, is more conservative than proposals introduced by the candidates typically identified as moderate.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota all at least call for the creation of a public health insurance option that would be available to every American. (Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts favor Medicare for All, which would move all Americans on to one government-run insurance plan ― though the two senators disagree on the timeline for implementing the idea.)
In terms of expanding health insurance coverage, Yang says on his website merely that he would “explore” allowing the employees of companies that already provide health insurance the chance to buy into Medicare.
“We need to give more choice to employers and employees in a way that removes barriers for businesses to grow,” Yang writes.
Under Yang’s plan, people employed by businesses that do not provide insurance, or who are self-employed, would continue to purchase coverage on the exchanges created by former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
The decision not to focus on expanding coverage distinguishes Yang dramatically from his competitors. And in the foreword to his plan, he explains that that is a deliberate choice, since enacting single-payer health care is “not a realistic strategy.”
“We are spending too much time fighting over the differences between Medicare for All, ‘Medicare for All Who Want It,’ and ACA expansion when we should be focusing on the biggest problems that are driving up costs and taking lives,” he writes. “We need to be laser focused on how to bring the costs of coverage down by solving the root problems plaguing the American healthcare system.”
When asked about how Yang plans to expand health insurance coverage ― 27 million Americans remain entirely uninsured and millions more have insurance that is so threadbare they do not use it ― Yang’s campaign referred HuffPost to his website.
Yang would increase health care access through reforms designed to reduce the health care system’s underlying costs, according to his campaign. On his website, he divides those reforms into six categories: bringing down the cost of prescription drugs through bulk negotiation; investing in waste-saving health care technologies; realigning medical providers’ “incentives” away from waste and abuse; increasing investment in preventive and end-of-life health care; making the provision of health care more “comprehensive”; and reducing the influence of lobbyists on the political system.
Yang implies that his rivals have sacrificed cost control in the name of expanding coverage. But when it comes to the specifics, Yang’s competitors have already gotten behind many of the ideas he is proposing ― and sometimes take them a step further.
For example, Buttigieg has a provision in his health care plan that would prohibit “surprise billing” ― the practice of providing unwitting patients with a large bill after a medical procedure when a doctor who performed it is not in the hospital’s insurance network. Yang does not mention the practice in his health care plan.
“When it comes to the specifics, Yang’s competitors have already gotten behind many of the ideas he is proposing ― and sometimes take them a step further.”
One provision of Yang’s plan that genuinely sets him apart is his plan to encourage the replacement of the fee-for-service billing model for doctors with salaries. The latter model is supposed to cut back on duplicative practices and foster more holistic care. Other elements of his plan, such as “incentivizing” gym memberships, healthy eating and bike commuting as a form of preventive health care, have drawn eye rolls from leftists who regard the ideas as paternalistic.
First and foremost, though, many progressives are likely to find fault with Yang’s plan, because they consider his use of the term “Medicare for All” misleading.
For months on the campaign trail, Yang claimed that he supported Medicare for All, though not the provision of Sanders’ bill ― and its companion in the House ― requiring people with private insurance to enroll in an expanded Medicare program.
He even aired a television ad casting his commitment to the policy as a reflection of his experience as the father of a special needs child.
Yang says on his campaign website that he is still firmly committed to the “spirit” of Medicare for All. But now that he has introduced a plan of his own, that claim is harder to defend.
Yet the Yang campaign is plowing full-steam ahead with its appropriation of the term in a new 30-second ad, “Caring.”
“If my husband, Andrew Yang, is president, he’ll fight for Medicare for All with mental health coverage,” Yang’s wife, Evelyn, says in the ad.
The Yang campaign estimated to HuffPost that it is spending upwards of $500,000 to air the spot in Iowa and New Hampshire.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story inaccurately claimed that Yang’s prescription drug plan did not leverage the threats of patent confiscation and generic drug production by the government.