(CNN) — California Sen. Kamala Harris fully embraced “Medicare-for-all” single payer health insurance at a CNN town hall in Des Moines on Monday. She said she’s willing to end private insurance to make it happen.
“We need to have Medicare-for-all,” Harris told a questioner in the audience, noting it’s something she feels “very strongly” about.
When pressed by CNN’s Jake Tapper if that means eliminating private insurance, the senator answered affirmatively, saying she would be OK with cutting insurers out of the mix. She also accused them of thinking only of their bottom lines and of burdening Americans with paperwork and approval processes.
“The idea is everyone gets access to medical care,” she responded when Tapper asked if people who like their insurance would get to keep it.
It was an answer that Republicans immediately jumped on. Michael Ahrens, rapid response director for the Republican National Committee, said on Twitter, “Dems in 2019: If you like your plan, we’re eliminating it.”
Many Americans don’t want to give up their private plans for universal coverage. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 74% of respondents favor creating a national health insurance program similar to Medicare, but allowing people to keep the coverage they currently have. Only 56% said they favor Medicare-for-all, in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan.
Still, the question — and answer — is important to “Medicare for all” supporters on the left, who — despite being pleased at the policy’s growing popularity — worry that it could be watered down in a crowded primary field.
“There’s going to be a question if any of those (other potential presidential candidates) take power: Do they actually want to create a single-payer program or is it just a messaging strategy to win people over with big ideas?” Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for the progressive group Justice Democrats, told CNN last year. “Do they support the end of private health insurance in the United States of America? Because that is what the bill is proposing to do. We’re going to get way more into the specifics than we did in 2016.”
Harris framed Medicare-for-all as a moral question, saying, “We have to appreciate and understand that access to health care should not be thought of to be a privilege. It should be understood to be a right.”
The current system, where insurers are more focused on profits, is “inhumane,” she said.
Harris noted that her mother was fortunate to have Medicare when she dying of cancer a decade ago. Last month, the candidate wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times saying she will fight for a better health care system in her mother’s name.