Harris Health Care Plan Draws Attacks From Rivals

Presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Days before she takes the stage in a nationally televised debate, Senator Kamala Harris drew criticism from all sides Monday for a health care proposal that calls for a slow and gradual approach to Medicare for all.

“Call it anything you want, but you can’t call this plan Medicare for All,” fellow candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said in a statement denouncing the junior California senator’s proposal Monday.

Harris’ plan includes a 10-year phase-in period, during which all Americans could buy into Medicare. During that period, uninsured people and newborns would be automatically enrolled in the program while doctors get time to transition to the new system. The plan would also allow private insurers to offer Medicare plans as long as they adhere to certain cost and benefit conditions.

“Essentially, we would allow private insurance to offer a plan in the Medicare system, but they will be subject to strict requirements to ensure it lowers costs and expands services,” Harris said in a blog post Monday.

Harris said her plan will cover all medical needs, including vision, dental, hearing, mental health, substance use disorder treatment and reproductive health care.

Though some private Medicare plans are offered today, Sanders argued the plan would essentially “privatize Medicare” and introduce “greed and profiteering into the Medicare system.”

Front-runner Joe Biden’s campaign had its own choice words for Harris’ plan, calling it a “have-it-every-which-way” approach that delays necessary changes to the U.S. health care system for at least a decade.

Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, called it a “Bernie Sanders-lite Medicare for All” plan that fails to be straight with the American people about who will ultimately pay for it: the middle class.

Biden introduced his own plan this month which would build on the 2011 Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, by adding a new government-run insurance option. The former vice president wants to extend tax credits to help Americans buy lower-cost health coverage. The plan, expected to cost $750 billion over a decade, would be paid for by reversing some Trump administration’s tax cuts.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Sanders wants to create a single-payer health care system which would insure all Americans and require no out-of-pocket costs for doctor’s visits. The Vermont senator proposes paying for this by increasing taxes on employers and households and eliminating “obsolete” health care subsidies. Sanders says the typical middle-class family would save more than $5,000 per year in premiums and pay far less in new taxes.

All three plans would empower the government to negotiate lower-cost drug prices.

The issue of health care has become a key point of disagreement between top candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. The issue is expected to come up at two Democratic debates scheduled July 30 and 31. Sanders will debate with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is polling in third place behind Sanders, and eight other candidates July 30. Biden and Harris, polling in fourth place, will square off with another eight candidates July 31.

The Trump administration has been fighting in court to dismantle Obamacare, including during oral arguments before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this month.

President Donald Trump told reporters in March that the Republican Party “will soon be known as the party of health care.” The administration has not introduced a plan to overhaul the U.S. health care system since it failed to repeal Obamacare in the U.S. Senate in 2017.

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