Democrats Back Away from Abolishing Private Health Insurance

Presidential candidates are wise to abandon a policy that few Americans support.

Democratic senator Kamala Harris of California listens to voters during a town hall meeting in Los Angeles, April 21, 2017
Democratic senator Kamala Harris of California listens to voters during a town hall meeting in Los Angeles, April 21, 2017 (Office of Senator Kamala Harris)

Good news: Democratic presidential candidates are coming to their senses on health care.

Senators Cory Booker, Kirstin Gillibrand and Kamala Harris have all backed away from abolishing private health insurance in favor of Medicare-for-all.

Even Senator Elizabeth Warren has given herself wiggle room, saying “there are a lot of different pathways” to achieving universal coverage.

The exception is Bernie Sanders, the author of Medicare-for-all and a self-declared democratic socialist.

Unpopular

His view, I’ve argued before, is unpopular. Americans know their system isn’t perfect, but those with private insurance are generally content with it. Only 13 percent want a health-care system without private insurance.

Abolishing private insurance is not just bad politics; it’s bad policy. Government-run systems, like Britain’s and Canada’s, tend to do worse, in terms of availability of treatments, cost, outcomes and waiting times, than mixed systems, such as the Netherlands’ and Switzerland’s.

Unedifying

It’s a little unedifying to see presidential candidates flip-flopping on an issue that many Americans rank as their number-one concern. Especially Harris has gone back and forth on whether or not to abolish private insurance, but her current plan — allowing Americans to enroll in Medicare if they want to — is the wiser choice.