Health insurance: Medicare for All will be a tough sell

Published 6:02 am Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The proposed Medicare for All plan proposed by Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is not yet on life support, but it’s looking awfully lethargic in the court of public opinion.

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Democratic candidates spent a great deal of time Wednesday debating, attacking and counter-attacking the idea that Americans would be switched off their private health insurance plans and into the mostly government run Medicare for All plan.

The idea has some appeal among some Americans frustrated with a private health insurance system that seems unfair, inefficient and sheltered from competition. But in two significant polls, Americans reject the idea of Medicare for All, but do favor a version of it that would allow people to choose Medicare as a health insurance option.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg challenged Warren in the debate: “I don’t think people are wrong when they say what they want is a choice.”

Polls by the Kaiser Family Foundation and NPR/PBS News Hour Maris show most Americans favor a choice plan and reject Medicare for All.

In the NPR/PBS poll, 41 percent said Medicare for All was a good idea, while 54 percent said it was a bad idea. The question asked: “Do you think Medicare for All — that is, a national health insurance program for all Americans that replaces private health insurance — is a good idea or a bad idea?”

The NPR/PBS poll also asked: “Do you think Medicare for all that want it — that is, allow all Americans to choose between a national health insurance program or their own private health insurance — is a good idea or a bad idea?”

The results of that poll showed 70 percent favoring the idea of Medicare by choice, while 25 percent said that it was a bad idea.

That majority basically favored the Medicare choice plan similar to that proposed by Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll asked two similar questions. In that one, 56 percent favored a “national health plan sometimes called Medicare for All,” while 42 percent opposed the idea.

A second question by Kaiser got even more support for the Medicare choice plan allowing people to keep their private insurance. Some 74 percent of respondents favored allowing people to choice Medicare or private insurance.

We conclude these kind of polling numbers will not be easily overcome and could weigh negatively on the candidacies of Warren and Sanders if they stick to a proposal for a monumental change in the way Americans get health care. It also has a large price tag and though Sanders and Warren say people will pay less overall, that’s a leap of faith some may not be willing to take. And, Sanders has admitted he would have to raise taxes on nearly everyone.

Medicare by choice will fare better and likewise could boost the candidacies of Klobuchar and Buttigieg.

Medicare for All will be a tough sell. A Medicare by choice plan will introduce needed competition into the health insurance market and may eventually find support for more and more of those frustrated by the high-cost, low-service current system of health insurance.