Elizabeth Warren’s Health Care “Choice:” Dishonesty

In Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) may debut before a nationwide audience a surprising mantra for someone openly committed to enacting a single-payer system of socialized medicine: Choice.

NBC reports that Warren said on Saturday: “We’re going to push through…full health care coverage at no cost for everyone else who wants it—you can buy it for a modest amount. You don’t have to, but it’s your choice.”

To clarify her “you can buy it” comments, Warren’s most recent health care plan said she would immediately make “free” coverage available to anyone making less than two times the federal poverty level ($51,500 for a family of four in 2019), with sliding-scale premiums capped at no more than 5% of income for those making more than 200% of poverty. Her recent speeches have focused on selling this “transition” plan—“free” coverage if you want it, but only if you want it—rather than her earlier single-payer program.

Some conservatives have claimed that Warren’s change in rhetoric marks the “last gasp” for the left’s move towards socialized medicine. Don’t you believe it. Warren hasn’t given up on anything. Nor have Pete Buttigieg and the other candidates who have campaigned against “Medicare for All.” They, and she, have just chosen to become less candid with the American people about how they hope to achieve their ultimate objectives.

Why Warren Pivoted

Two reasons in particular explain why Warren suddenly embraced the mantra of choice. First, most Americans who have health insurance right now like their plan. A Gallup survey found that nearly seven in ten Americans find their health coverage either excellent (27%) or good (42%). In the 18 years since Gallup first started asking this question, the approval number for Americans’ health coverage has never dropped below 63%.

When millions of people received cancellation notices as Obamacare took effect, Barack Obama found out in 2013 how much people like their current coverage. He felt compelled to issue a public apology for his “Lie of the Year,” telling people they could keep their existing plans when many could not. In part due to these events six years ago, the fear of taking people’s coverage away has dominated the health care discussions at this year’s Democratic presidential debates.

By emphasizing choice, Warren seeks to minimize this potential source of controversy for key constituencies. In the Democratic primaries, union households who have negotiated generous health benefits may blanch at losing those benefits; one confronted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) about the issue in Iowa this past summer.

Then in next year’s general election, educated and affluent voters who have good health coverage will similarly fear a new plan taking that coverage away. As Philip Klein recently noted in the Washington Examiner, proposing the eradication of existing insurance options could well cost Warren in places like the suburbs of Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee—critically important battleground areas in battleground states.

De-Emphasizing (Middle Class) Tax Increases

Second, Warren’s earlier rhetoric about taking coverage away from all Americans implies another, similarly awkward question: How will you pay for this massive expansion of government? Warren tried to answer this query by releasing a funding proposal in early November, but in truth, it raised more questions than it answered.

To give but one example: Since Warren released her plan, one study found that her proposed wealth tax would raise $1 trillion less in revenue than she claimed. That $1 trillion gap represents money that she would have to get from somewhere else.

Her revenue plan has myriad other gimmicks buried inside (analyzed in detail here). For instance, her estimates didn’t take into account the fact that the tax increases will shrink the economy, and therefore by definition won’t produce all the revenue she claims.

Warren released her revenue plan claiming that she could fund the full cost of her single-payer plan without raising taxes on the middle class. But the more she pushed that plan, the more people would pick apart all the gimmicks—and Warren’s opponents would rightly claim the gap between what she said her plan would raise and what it actually does would end up coming from the middle class. As a result, Warren “chose” to pivot to her “choice” mantra, navigating away from the Scylla and Charybdis of taking away people’s coverage, and raising taxes on the middle class to do so.

Forcing People to ‘Choose’ Socialism

The change in Warren’s tone doesn’t mean she’s changed her ultimate objective, however. Consider her comments at a town hall on Monday: “When tens of millions of people have had a chance to try [the buy-in proposal], I believe, at that point, we’re going to be ready to vote for” single payer (emphasis added).

Like Buttigieg, Warren sees a buy-in program—call it a “government-run plan,” call it a “public option,” call it “Medicare for All Who Want It”—as creating a natural “glide path” to single payer. They remain quite outspoken in their goal: They want to achieve a socialized medicine system. If given the opportunity, they will use policy to accomplish that objective—just slightly more slowly than under an immediate transition to single payer.

A throwaway line in a recent Vox article got at this same point. The article focused on open enrollment for exchange plans, and the fact that insurers must limit enrollment to a certain period of time, because Obamacare’s costly pre-existing condition provisions encourage individuals to wait until they become sick to sign up for coverage. The penultimate paragraph included this claim:

Under the various public options that have been proposed, uninsured people would be automatically enrolled in the new optional government plan. One advantage the government has over private insurers is it doesn’t need its books to balance perfectly; adverse selection [a disproportionate number of sick people signing up] isn’t as big a concern. [Emphasis mine.]

The highlighted line demonstrates how liberals would use taxpayer funds for the government-run plan: subsidizing coverage in advance, or bailing out the government plan after the fact if premiums are set too low, or too many sick people enroll, or both. Vox’s line hints at the left’s true goal through a “public option:” To sabotage private plans, and force people into socialized medicine, one person at a time.

Warren’s “choice” mantra sounds innocuous, but its underlying premise—by her own admission—seeks to create a single-payer system, just over a slightly longer period. Conservatives who think her approach represents anything other than a change in tactics should think again. The wolf attacking private insurance hasn’t disappeared so much as put on a disguise of sheep’s clothing.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Obamacare Failing to Meet Struggling Americans’ Expectations

Most of the news surrounding the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll has centered around its findings for the presidential campaign – but the survey also revealed some interesting results on the health care front.  Specifically, the survey asked “which one personal worry for you and your family is greatest right now?”  Health care topped the list, at 33 percent, (marginally) ahead of jobs at 32 percent.  And by an over two-to-one margin, respondents found that the Obama Administration had failed to live up to its expectations on health care – only 31% said Obama had met expectations on health care, compared to 64% who said he had fallen short.  Of particular note is the fact that the “meet expectations” number fell 8 points since August 2010, while the number of Americans believing Obama has fallen short on health care has risen by 9 percentage points.  (So much for the claims by Senator Schumer and others that “Now that the bill is enacted, it’s going to become more and more popular.”)

Of course, the American people have every reason to believe that the Obama Administration has not lived up to expectations on health care – because it hasn’t.  To use but one prominent example, candidate Obama said repeatedly his bill would CUT premiums by an average of $2,500 per family – meaning premiums would go DOWN, not merely just “go up by less than projected.”  The campaign also promised that that those reductions would occur within Obama’s first term.  However, the annual Kaiser Foundation survey of employer-provided insurance found that average family premiums totaled $12,860 in 2008, $13,375 in 2009, and $13,770 in 2010 and $15,073 this year.  In other words, while candidate Obama promised premiums would fall by $2,500 on average, premiums have already risen by $2,213 during the Obama Administration.

One of the prime reasons Americans cited health care as their largest personal worry is skyrocketing costs.  Campaign rhetoric aside, Obamacare did precious little to reduce cost growth – spending will actually rise thanks to the law, as will premiums.  It’s one of the most damaging of all the broken promises made by the President on health care, one which will hit millions of struggling families directly in the wallet.

Obama Comments on Berwick Recess Appointment

Yesterday NBC News’ Chuck Todd interviewed President Obama; the Today show broadcast the interview this morning.  During the interview, the President was asked about the recess appointment of Donald Berwick, and whether it indicated that the President “didn’t want a debate about health care again on Capitol Hill.”  The President responded with complaints about the appointment and confirmation process generally—but he did not suggest that Republicans obstructed Dr. Berwick’s nomination specifically (because they did not—Senator Grassley and other Republicans called for hearings on Dr. Berwick’s nomination weeks ago).

The President also responded that “I can’t play political games with the Senate…I’ve got a government to run.”  However, he did NOT explain why he didn’t appoint a CMS Administrator for 454 days—which would appear to contradict his stated focus on running the government.

It’s also worth noting that the President ended this exchange by pointing out that “when people are determined and willing to take tough votes even when it’s politically inconvenient we can still get things done.”  Some would argue that that rubric might apply to the Berwick nomination itself—that, if Democrats are convinced Dr. Berwick is the best possible Administrator for CMS, they should focus on guiding the nomination through the regular order, even though it might be “politically inconvenient” due to some of his controversial statements.

Video of the interview can be found here (Berwick exchange begins at 9:25), and a transcript follows below.


TODD:  Do you think Washington is broken?  And the reason I ask you this, because when you appointed—you did the recess appointment of Donald Berwick—you seemed to send the message of—one of two things.  Either you didn’t want a debate about health care again on Capitol Hill—which got a little raucous a year ago—or “You know what?  The Senate process is broken and we got to go around it.”
OBAMA:   Well, what is true is, when it comes specifically to appointments, whether it’s judges or critical positions in national security, homeland security, FBI, there have been more delays, obstruction, and stalling when it comes to just appointing people to run the day-to-day aspects of Washington than any President has experienced in history.  And the fact of the matter is that I can’t play political games with the Senate on these issues—I’ve got a government to run.  And at a certain point, we have to go ahead and just make sure that people are in place to deal with the enormous challenges that are ahead. 
TODD:  So you’re not ready to say Washington’s broken?
OBAMA:  Well, here’s what I’m ready to say, that Washington has spent an inordinate amount of time on politics, who’s up, who’s down and not enough on how are we delivering for the American people?  The good news is that despite no cooperation from the other side, we have over the last two years stopped an economic freefall, stabilized the financial sector.  We’re on the verge of passing a financial regulatory bill that provides consumers the kind of protections they deserve—
TODD:  Probably will be passed by the time people see this—
OBAMA:  Will be passed potentially by the time we land, I get back to Washington.  A health care bill that not only is going to make sure that everybody has access to coverage, but also is reducing costs.  So when you look at the list of things we’ve been able to accomplish, it does show that when people are determined and are willing to take tough votes even when it’s politically inconvenient we can still get things done.