In a recent MSNBC town hall, Elizabeth Warren put her policy platform on full display. Through emotional, personal anecdotes and with a depth of understanding, Warren gave the impression of a candidate well-aware of the problems faced by working Americans and armed with the policies needed to solve them. She detailed her plans to achieve universal childcare, cancel the bulk of existing student debt, and create over a million green jobs by progressively taxing the richest Americans. She boldly criticized Joe Biden’s conservative record and decried the greed of large corporations.
The performance supported Warren’s reputation as a candidate with a “plan for everything” — a reputation emphasized repeatedly by MSNBC moderator Chris Hayes throughout the event. Taken as a whole, however, the town hall revealed an alarming gap in Warren’s policy repertoire, one that has gone mostly ignored to this point in the campaign: she has no plan for fixing the broken US health care system.
Warren had several opportunities in the town hall to address the health care crisis. Instead, she avoided the topic almost entirely. Even when discussing issues directly related to health care like repealing the Hyde Amendment and improving access to hearing aides, she neglected to propose a comprehensive policy solution.
Unfortunately, this was not a simple case of forgetfulness. In fact, it continues a disturbing trend with the Warren campaign. Check her website: in a long and thorough issues page full of bold plans to alleviate Americans’ suffering, Warren makes no mention of health care. View her campaign materials: Warren has yard signs dedicated to several of her major policy proposals, but not a single one about health care. Follow her campaign appearances: you’ll hear the usual platitudes (“health care is a human right;” “everyone deserves access to care”), but you won’t hear her endorse a specific policy.
Warren’s avoidance of the issue is shocking. Health care repeatedly polls as the most important issue to voters — 80 percent told Gallup recently it’s “extremely” or “very” important to their vote. This is no surprise, as nearly 30 million Americans lack health insurance, and those who have it face prohibitive out-of-pocket costs and the ever-present fear that their employer will throw them off of their plan. The system is a colossal mess, and Americans are desperate for a solution.
The majority of voters (as many as 85 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans) support Medicare for All for this very reason. The sweeping single-payer policy, popularized by Bernie Sanders, would eliminate all out-of-pocket costs and guarantee lifelong, comprehensive coverage to every American resident through a single, public program. While Warren is a cosponsor of Sanders’s Medicare for All bill, she doesn’t talk about it in her campaign appearances and keeps her answers ambiguous when pressed.
Take for instance Warren’s March town hall on CNN. When asked directly whether she supports Medicare for All, Warren suggested that Medicare for All is merely a slogan for expanded public coverage, rather than a specific piece of single-payer legislation.
“When we talk about Medicare for All, there are a lot of different pathways,” she said, before listing a slew of incremental proposals without explicitly endorsing any of them, from lowering the age for Medicare eligibility to allowing employers to buy in to Medicare. “For me, what’s key is we get everyone to the table on this.”
Taking this answer at face value, it seems Warren sees herself pursuing an incremental approach that expands public coverage while preserving the private insurance industry should she be elected president. This would likely surprise many of her supporters, who might view her cosponsorship of Sanders’s Medicare for All bill as an endorsement of single-payer health care.
It’s fair to ask why Warren, who supports bold, progressive policies on a number of major issues, is avoiding the most important issue to voters. It could be a reluctance to attach herself to a rival candidate’s signature policy, or it could be a way to avoid conflict with the powerful health care corporations in her home state of Massachusetts.
Either way, it meshes well with a years-long effort by Democrats to blur the meaning of Medicare for All by gesturing goodwill toward single-payer advocates while attempting to redefine the phrase and apply it to public option proposals that preserve the private insurance industry. By following this playbook, Warren is actively supporting the corporate effort to kill the growing Medicare for All movement.
Warren’s supporters shouldn’t tolerate this. The entire country is desperate for health care security, and Warren is in a position to argue intelligently and emotionally in support of a bold, progressive solution, just as she has for so many other important issues. Her voice can help the single-payer movement in a significant way. Together with Sanders, she could make Medicare for All an unambiguous and uncompromising demand of the progressive left in the 2020 campaign. The longer she stays silent, the weaker the Medicare for All movement becomes in the face of relentless attacks from right and center.
Winning Medicare for All will require a massive effort from both inside and outside the beltway. We need a president willing to lead the fight against the powerful insurance and pharmaceutical industries and a galvanized movement of supporters willing to use their collective power to demand nothing less than single-payer health care. Her platform is mostly laudable, but so far, Warren’s campaign has given no indication that she’s willing to take on this fight.