Bernie Sanders Gets Attacked for Making Welcome Change to Medicare for All


Independent Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders rolled out a beneficial change to his “Medicare for All” plan but was promptly attacked by The Washington Post over a different Medicare for All change that wasn’t actually a change at all.

A bit of a feud broke out Wednesday over a Washington Post report claiming Sanders changed his M4A plan in a way that was a “seeming acknowledgment of a role for private coverage by a campaign that has railed against others for not taking a hard enough stance against such plans.”

Several senior staffers for California Senator Kamala Harris — who has been viciously attacked by Sanders staffers for changing her positions on M4A and introducing her own version — quickly leaped on the Post article as evidence of hypocrisy. Harris National Press Secretary Ian Sams and Communications Director Lily Adams led the charge.

Nevada Comms Director Helen Kalla also chimed in, pointing out that Harris formulated her plan after speaking to unions.

Sanders campaign officials pushed back, insisting that there was no actual change to Medicare for All, and deriding “The Amazon Post” for their reporting.

The good news is that everyone gets to be a little bit right in this three-way feud, although The Washington Post‘s share of rightness is minuscule.

Notwithstanding the conspiratorial edge, the Sanders campaign is correct that the “change” identified in the article isn’t actually a change to Medicare for All, and doesn’t actually demonstrate “acknowledgment of a role for private coverage” in Medicare for All.

Under Sanders’s new wrinkle, those unions could renegotiate their contracts under the supervision of the National Labor Relations Board. “Unions will still be able to negotiate for and provide wrap-around services and other coverage not duplicative of the benefits established under Medicare-for-all,” the plan now says, a seeming acknowledgment of a role for private coverage by a campaign that has railed against others for not taking a hard-enough stance against such plans.

That portion of Sanders’ pro-union plan might as well say “Union members will still be able to drink water.” It’s meaningless and has nothing to do with health insurance. As Sanders aides pointed out in the story, Medicare for All covers everything that current private health insurance covers. Any “wrap-around services” or “other coverage” would be covered by things that are not health insurance. A better question would be why is that paragraph even there, and why didn’t they list the million other things that union members will still be able to do under M4A?

But the Post‘s headline is true, there is an actual change to Medicare for All in Sanders’ union platform, and it is a good one. The beginning of that same paragraph that the Post singled out from Sanders’ union plan says “Bernie will require that resulting healthcare savings from union-negotiated plans result in wage increases and additional benefits for workers during the transition to Medicare for All.”

As I’ve pointed out before, union members who have negotiated health care as part of their compensation would effectively face a pay cut under Medicare for All as it is currently written. Yes, they would benefit from M4A in the same ways that everyone else would, but there’s nothing in the law to prevent companies from pocketing some or all of those savings, depending on the negotiating skills of the individual unions.

Sanders National Policy Director Josh Orton is technically correct that the text of Medicare for All has not been altered to include the provision, but that’s an odd defense. If it isn’t eventually included in the law, then it’s a fervent wish, not a “requirement.”

But this is a positive development that shows Sanders is willing to address legitimate concerns about M4A, rather than waving them away as products of fear-mongering and media distortion. And while it has nothing to do with a “role for private coverage,” it does show that changing your health care plan to respond to those concerns — as Harris did — is sometimes okay with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

The next step — for Sanders or any other Democrat proposing universal health care — would be to extend that requirement to the tens of millions of people who aren’t in unions, but whose employers contribute to their health care premiums as part of their overall compensation. Any plan should include a requirement that if an employer drops health insurance in favor of letting their employees go on a public plan, they would have to increase wages or other benefits in the amount of their previous health insurance contributions.

Sanders’ plan also retains an advantage over public option plans like Joe Biden‘s in that it covers 100 percent of everyone, which is a moral and practical imperative for any universal health care plan. That’s a problem that they need to address, and which could be fixed by the addition of an income-indexed individual mandate tax penalty, coupled with automatic enrollment in something like Medicaid.

Sanders rolled out his pro-union platform Wednesday at an AFL-CIO forum (which apparently took place on the set of a snuff film), but failed to mention this new provision, and his campaign staff is weirdly denying its very existence, but it is an excellent first step in addressing voters’ concerns with Medicare for All. Every Democratic candidate should be encouraged to do the same with their own health care plans.

Watch Sanders’ speech to the Iowa Federation of Labor above, via Bernie Sanders for President.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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