UPDATE: June 28 — Kamala Harris claimed after Thursday’s debate that she had misinterpreted a question about eliminating private health insurance in favor of a government-run health insurance plan. Instead of indicating her support for eliminating private insurance in general, Harris told a reporter she favored enrolling in a government-run health care plan herself.
Here’s the question she heard from NBC’s Lester Holt, which was a bit awkwardly phrased:
“We asked a question about health care last night that spurred a lot of discussion, as you know. We’re going to do it again now. Many people watching at home have health insurance through their employer. Who here would abolish their private health insurance in favorite of a government-run plan?”
After taking several seemingly contradictory positions on the issue in recent months, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) confirmed Thursday she supports abolishing private health insurance in favor of a government-run health care program for all Americans.
Harris joined fellow Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in raising her hand on stage at the first 2020 presidential debate in Miami when all the candidates were asked by moderators to indicate their support for winding down most private insurance in favor of “Medicare for All.”
On Wednesday, the first half of the two-night debate, with 10 other Democratic candidates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio indicated they would also support abolishing private health insurance.
The question about Medicare for All had tripped up Harris at a January town hall hosted by CNN, when she first appeared to call for the elimination of private health insurance.
“Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on,” Harris said, a line Republicans quickly highlighted in their efforts to paint her as an extreme candidate.
But at another CNN town hall in April, Harris maintained that under Sanders’ bill, private insurance companies would actually still be able to offer some policies.
“There would still be access to supplemental insurance,” Harris said.
Harris attempted to clear up the matter during another interview in May with CNN’s Jake Tapper, maintaining that she didn’t intend to call for abolishing all insurance companies in January, even as she reaffirmed her support for Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal.
“What I meant is, let’s get rid of the bureaucracy,” Harris said of the January town hall. When Tapper noted Sanders’ proposal would eliminate private health insurance, Harris again maintained: “No, no, no, no, it does not get rid of insurance. It does not get rid of insurance.”
The concept of Medicare for All is widely supported by Democratic voters, though many don’t seem to understand exactly how it would work. Two-thirds of Democratic voters think that people with employer coverage could hold on to their policies under Medicare for All, according to a recent study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
In reality, Sanders’ proposal would prohibit the sale of private insurance that is “duplicative” of what the government plan would offer, as HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn wrote earlier this month:
That would effectively wipe out existing employer policies. Private insurers could still offer supplemental plans, but only to pay for extras, like cosmetic surgery and premium hospital rooms, that the government plan didn’t cover.
Public opinion regarding Medicare for All changes depending on how it is described to voters. When respondents in one recent poll heard that Medicare for All would eliminate private insurance, for example, support dropped dramatically, with just 37% favoring it and 58% opposing.
Republicans accused Harris of flip-flopping over the matter on Thursday.
“So Kamala Harris was for eliminating private insurance before she was against it before she was for it. Got it,” tweeted Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens.