Elizabeth Warren outpointed Pete Buttigieg on the matter of “wine caves” in Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate. But on the domestic question of the times, health care, Warren tacitly submitted to Mayor Pete.
Warren promised on Thursday that “in the first 100 days, because I found a way to pay for full health-care coverage for everyone without raising taxes on middle-class families, I’m going to make available to people a full health-care coverage for 135 million people. It will be at no cost at all. And they can opt into that system.”
Did you catch that last part? Warren allows Americans to “opt into that system.” This is a face-saving about-face.
Until recently, Warren, like Bernie Sanders, insisted that “Medicare for All” meant not only a compulsory program but one that prohibited private insurance plans that competed against it. If you like your doctor, we will make you like our doctor. Medicare for All, for a time last year, looked almost like an article of faith in the same Democratic Party that purported to solve our health-care woes earlier in the decade through Obamacare.
Then Pete Buttigieg, along with Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden, challenged this shibboleth. Grasping that voters, even Democratic voters, do not want expensive, one-size-fits-all solutions (which tend to require solutions of their own), Buttigieg styled his plan Medicare for All Who Want It, a public option of sorts.
Buttigieg leads in Iowa and finds himself slightly trailing Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, according to the RealClearPolitics poll of polls. A 37-year-old unknown who serves as mayor of the fourth-largest city in Indiana appears as, if not the man to beat, then at least a force to take seriously because he said “the emperor has no clothes” to Medicare for All. Warren, on the other hand, saw her star fall by recalcitrantly sticking to an idea increasingly rejected by voters. With 160 million Americans facing a loss of their employer-plan insurance policies under her plan, she inevitably lost support once the ramifications of Medicare for All became clear.
Consider a November Quinnipiac poll. “Medicare for All has grown increasingly unpopular among all American voters,” the pollsters explain, “as 36 percent say it is a good idea and 52 percent say it is a bad idea. In a March 26, 2019 poll, 43 percent said good idea, while 45 percent said bad idea. The highest support came in an August 3, 2017 poll when voters said it was a good idea 51-38 percent.” A Fox News poll released a week ago counted only 54 percent of Democrats — down from 65 percent in October — in favor of a government-run system, à la Medicare for All. Most voters oppose government-run health care and favor a Buttigieg-style Medicare buy-in. As recently as last year, a Reuters–Ipsos poll claimed support for Medicare for All from 70 percent of respondents. When Warren dropped into the single digits nationally earlier this month in a Reuters–Ipsos poll, Reuters noted that “Warren has slipped as her rivals for the nomination criticized her proposal for extending government-paid health care to all Americans as too costly.”
To know Medicare for All was not to love Medicare for All. So, as Warren’s poll numbers declined (and Medicare for All supporter Kamala Harris dropped her unqualified support before dropping out), she altered her rhetoric. She replaced the language of coercion with the language of competition. Apart from talking of allowing Americans to “opt into the system” on Thursday night, Warren in recent weeks called Medicare for All “a choice for everyone to make” and suggested, “Let’s let people try it.”
Options, choice, and trying indicate a competitive system. In health care, competition remains the answer to reduce cost without reducing quality. Elizabeth Warren, what took you so long to figure this out?
Hunt Lawrence is a New York-based investor. Daniel Flynn is the author of six books.