Kamala Harris officially announced her 2020 “Medicare for All” plan. The plan was designed to create distance from her prior endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare proposal, yet it seems to lack the differences voters may be looking for.
While differentiating her health care plan from Sanders may not be important in the upcoming second round of Democratic debates, it will become important in the September and October debates as the field is expected to shrink.
When Harris and Sanders share the debate stage, it will be important that Harris advocates for distinct ideas of her own to implement “Medicare for All,” instead of coming across as though she is copying and pasting Sanders. On her campaign website, in the subsection that addresses how to pay for “Medicare for All,” she sites Sanders’ ideas as an inspiration.
“Senator Sanders, for example, has put forward a number of ways to help pay for his Medicare for All plan, including an income based premium paid by employers, higher taxes on the top 1%, taxing capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income, among others,” Harris’ campaign website reads.
One differentiation from Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan is that Harris prefers a tax on Wall Street stock trades to Sanders’ proposed 4% increased tax on those making more than $29,000.
Another differentiation from Sanders’ plan is a 10-year transition period toward “Medicare for All,” versus Sanders’ nearly instantaneous implementation. Although the 10-year transition period sounds more moderate, it offers all the same consequences of Sanders’ proposal.
Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a research organization that promotes free-market ideas for health reform, breaks down the consequences of Harris’ “Medicare for All” plan:
“Sen. Harris seems to believe that private insurance could survive alongside a ‘public option’ or ‘Medicare buy in.’ Both have unlimited calls on taxpayer resources, the ability to dictate prices, and no costs of capital. Private insurance would quickly wither. Her plan is a slightly-longer pathway to a single-payer, government-run health system that would eliminate choices, more than double personal and corporate incomes taxes, and drive hospitals and physicians into bankruptcy.”
Harris details her official policy plan on her campaign website and also a blog where she explained her proposal. On Harris’ blog, she says, “Right now, the American health care system is a patchwork of plans, providers and costs that have left people frustrated, powerless and insurance companies in charge. And the bottom line is that health care just costs too much.”
At the beginning of her post, she insinuates that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is failing. According to Harris, the current health care system, which amounts to Obamacare minus the individual mandate and with a Medicaid expansion heavily altered thanks to the Supreme Court, is a patchwork of plans that costs too much.
Heading into the second round of Democratic debates, former Vice President Joe Biden is praising Obama’s health policy and has announced that his health care plan will expand on the existing Obamacare outline. Meanwhile, Sanders is claiming that Obamacare does not go far enough to provide health care to Americans. Harris is attempting to navigate between them.
This creates a difficult challenge: Does Harris believe Obamacare is a success, therefore implying voters should give Biden credit? Or does Harris believe Obamacare is not going far enough, and will she join Sanders in touting the failures of Obamacare?
Her campaign website’s policy proposal would lead us to believe Harris falls closer to the side of Sanders. Given how critical Harris has been of the Biden campaign, if she does agree that Obamacare was a success, then it will be difficult for her genuinely to attack Biden in the second round of Democratic debates over the health care plan that was the administration’s signature policy.
Harris has benefitted greatly in the polls from attacking Biden, which also leads us to believe Harris will attack Biden on Obamacare — potentially on Obamacare’s lack of attack toward private health insurance.
Harris is polling in fourth at 11.8%, behind Biden and Sanders, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren is polling at 14.5%. Harris’ polling numbers did increase dramatically after the first round of Democratic debates when she attacked Biden over the issue of race. But another fight with Biden may not be enough.
Many pundits, as well as Democratic voters, have referenced Warren’s unique plans and serious policy proposals as a reason for her campaign’s growing support and success. If Harris is hoping to gain supporters from those polling in the top three, she’s going to need to come up with unique policy proposals that have helped propel campaigns such as Warren’s.