Medicare for All is shaping up to be one of the biggest political issues for Democrats this year. Major 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker all support some form of government-run healthcare. In February, more than 100 Democratic House members co-sponsored a Medicare for All plan introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a notable exception. She did not endorse the House bill, and she’s been openly skeptical of the costs. In fact, a top Pelosi aide privately sought to undermine Medicare for All at a private health policy meeting in November, several sources told Politico.
No on Medicare for All
Pelosi’s longtime adviser on health care policy, Wendell Primus, attended the private meeting on Nov. 30 and cautioned the roughly two dozen people in attendance about the risks of Medicare for All, both financial and political, and encouraged them to speak out publicly against the proposed single-payer health care scheme, according to “multiple people familiar with the session.”
Primus was said to have explained that House Democratic leadership did not support the push from some in the party’s caucus toward socialized Medicare for All, in part because it risked drawing attention away from the leadership’s true focus on protecting and strengthening the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
That summation came from six unnamed individuals — four who were in the meeting and two who’d been briefed on it. The general consensus on the true thrust of Primus’ comments fell somewhere between a request for the health policy groups to provide more analysis and data on the plan, versus a more underhanded invitation for those groups to openly discredit and distance themselves from the costly Medicare for All proposal.
One attendee said, “It came across as, we need this so we can get on with our agenda. Can you help us point out the problems?”
Denial from Pelosi’s office
Pelosi’s office denied the report in a statement to Politico. “Wendell absolutely did not ask for any kind of one-sided analysis of Medicare for All, and anyone who says otherwise wasn’t actually listening. As Democrats, across the entire spectrum, we believe in legislating based on facts, data and honest analysis,” said Henry Connelly, spokesman for the speaker.
“No one has anything to fear from good faith research on Medicare for All,” Connelly added, in reference to the suggestion that Primus had encouraged the health policy groups to dig in to the details of the single-payer health care proposals and share what had been learned with the public.
But this isn’t the only report of such behind-the-scenes meetings. According to a February report from The Intercept, Primus met with major health insurers in early December and assured them “that party leadership had strong reservations about single-payer health care and was more focused on lowering drug prices.”
Focus on saving Obamacare
Pelosi and other top Democratic leaders would prefer to spend their efforts on saving Obamacare from the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal it, Politico reported. Options include smaller movements centered on lowering prescription drug prices or protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions from being denied insurance coverage.
Politically, it’s a safer route than embracing the controversial Medicare for All scheme, which would completely surpass Obamacare in terms of government control over the nation’s health care system, and which would admittedly force tens of millions of unwilling Americans off their preferred private health insurance plans.
While a significant percentage of Americans approved of Medicare for All’s promised benefits, once they were informed of the cons — cost, increased taxes, loss of private insurance, delays in getting care — most people disapproved of it, according to a Kaiser poll in January.
This allegation of shadowy sabotage of Medicare for All proposals by a top Pelosi aide will likely not sit well with the far-left progressives in the Democratic Party, and given the manner in which the more radical progressives have been so outspoken in recent months, it will be interesting to see if a challenge toward Pelosi’s leadership is mounted by those who feel they’ve been scorned by the head of the party.