Is Elizabeth Warren Moonwalking Away From Medicare For All?

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Elizabeth Warren has been cheered on by the media for her “I have a plan for that” charm, but one plan she seems to be talking less and less about on the campaign trail is the signature progressive issue of Medicare For All.

The Massachusetts Senator has recently come under fire for moving away from and being too vague on her support for Medicare for All; a policy that a 2018 Reuters-Ipsos survey found 70 percent of Americans overall, 85 percent of Democrats, and even 52 percent of Republicans support. It’s also the leading issue people want to hear about.

Which makes it curious that Warren, who has long been considered a top progressive on economic issues, hasn’t focused much on Medicare For All in recent weeks on the campaign trail, unlike her main progressive challenger, Senator Bernie Sanders, who champions the need for Medicare For All at length during nearly every speech and media interviews.

Those in progressive, all-or-nothing Medicare for All circles have started to notice that the policy-forward Warren, who is a co-sponsor of Sanders’ Medicare For All Senate Bill, is not putting this policy at the forefront of her campaign, or at least not in the right way.

During her town hall with CNN, Warren’s answer on healthcare was fairly vague and seeming to soften on concrete support for Medicare For All—and eliminating private insurance.

“He’s [Bernie Sanders] got a runway for that, I think we get everybody together, and that’s what it is we’ll decide,” she began. “I’ve also co-sponsored other bills, including expanding Medicaid as another approach that we use, but what’s really important to me about this is we never lose sight of what the center is because the center is about making sure that every single person in this country gets the coverage that they need and it’s at a price that they can afford.”

Senator Warren also said there could be a role for private insurance companies, a non-starter for many progressives from the Bernie Sanders’ wing of the progressive movement—and sounds more like a plethora of platitudes coming from Warren rather than a concrete Medicare For All plan.

And during a recent interview with The New York Times, Senator Warren answered a question on whether she favors expanding Obamacare or Medicare For All by seeming to suggest there are different options.

“There are a lot of different ways to get there,” she said. “Medicare for all’ has a lot of different paths.”

Answers like this with progressives who don’t accept any compromise on Medicare For All—including on whether private health care is abolished or not. Some plans try to get away with incrementalism, proposing up a “public option” or something like a ‘Medicare Extra for All,’ which is in no way the same thing as Medicare for All.

And of course there are many Democrats advocating for expanding President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which was originally hatched out of the conservative Heritage Foundation. Obamacare was a quintessential public-private, market-based program heavy on incrementalism; it helped the most vulnerable, particularly through the Medicaid Expansion provision, but bent over backward to insurance companies who ended up charging high enough rates, deductibles, and co-pays that many Americans simply aren’t able to afford the ACA.

Although there is no reason to lump Warren in with typical quid-pro-quo corporate Democrats, there is at least one contributor from with connections to a more incremental healthcare philosophy. Warren received $28,103 to her campaign committee in 2018 from individuals working for Partners Healthcare, a non-profit hospital and physicians network which includes Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General (Partners is the largest private employer in the state of Massachusetts, employing 74,000 workers). According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “the money came from the organizations’ PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families.”

Partners has been embroiled in a variety of scandals including landing at the center of a U.S. antitrust probe.

Warren supporting Medicare For All and receiving tens of thousands from individuals working for and/or owners of Partners seems in conflict with one another considering Partners’ longtime CEO David Torchiana also serves on the Board of Directors and Founder’s Council of nonprofit United States of Care. USOC  is what some progressives have dubbed to be a bi-partisan saboteur of Medicare for All efforts due to its championing of “access” to quality, affordable health care—a common talking point for those politicians trying to straddle the line between appearing to be for universal healthcare without firmly fighting for it.

USOC’s Chairman of the Board is Andy Slavitt, the former acting head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama, who said in 2018: “I believe that it’s going to take a number of years from where we are today, so for someone who believes in single-payer, “Medicare for all,” I hope that you can also be for other things that are good for people in the meantime.”

There’s also the unfortunate fact that Bill Frist, a former Republican Senator who pushed privatizing Medicare, is also on the board of directors for USOC.

Beyond the contributions from Partners Healthcare, Warren has made some head-scratching statements that were received as out-of-touch among progressives. Last year, she responded to big pharma giant Pfizer’s price gouging by proposing a bill that set a maximum out-of-pocket monthly cost for families of $500.

“I don’t know any family that can even afford that,” one response said. The majority of others called this proposal out of touch considering almost half of American families can’t even afford a $400 emergency much less $500 in monthly out-of-pocket costs for medicine.

Senator Warren’s campaign website also seems to minimize Medicare For All. The 2018 version of the website for her senatorial campaign, which Status Coup found via the WayBack machine, included an entire section for healthcare and Medicare for All. But the current 2019 version of her presidential website doesn’t include a section specifically for healthcare or Medicare For All. In fact, Medicare for All is mentioned just one time—in the “Rebuild the Middle Class” section, with an indirect reference to putting a “down payment” on Medicare for All.

In response to Status Coup’s request for comment on this, a Warren campaign spokesperson told us:

“This is a broad issues page. We don’t have a section for canceling student debt or universal free college, we don’t have a section for her universal child care or for trade and green manufacturing…There are a number of issues that are not on the presidential website but that were on her Senate re-elect that are still priorities. Using a website page to measure a candidate’s commitment to something makes zero sense…”

They also pointed out recent tweets clearly showing Warren’s support for Medicare For All.

Senator Warren’s campaign also told Status Coup that she unequivocally supports Medicare for All:

“Elizabeth believes Medicare-for-all is the only approach we can use to treat health care like the basic human right it is—she has said we need Medicare for All repeatedly.”

If Warren indeed supports Medicare For All—with no caveats or compromise—large portions of progressive voters have not heard or seen enough to convince them she will be as fierce a fighter for it as Sanders, who is in many ways the political godfather of the issue.

Warren will have an opportunity to soothe progressives’ concerns—or further dig a ditch for herself—when she gets on the debate stage on night one of the two-night first presidential debates in Miami Florida. On night one, she will debate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Senator Cory Booker, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Senator Amy Klobuchar, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, former Rep. John Delaney, Rep. Tim Ryan, and former HUD Director Julian Castro.

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