Photograph of a Medicare for All rally

Medicare-for-All Wouldn’t be Medicare if it Eliminated Private Insurance

By Robert Field

Should Medicare-for-All replace private insurance? That question, although central to many current health reform debates, presents a fundamental contradiction. If Medicare-for-All were to eliminate private coverage, it wouldn’t be Medicare, which has made room for private insurers from the start.

Medicare could have been designed as a pure single payer with comprehensive coverage for all health care needs. However, that approach would have risked alienating several important constituencies, including the insurance industry, and provoking their opposition. Before the program was enacted, private Insurers enjoyed a sizeable market through which they sold coverage of some sort to about half the nation’s elderly. Medicare eliminated that market but created an attractive new one to replace it. It did this by enabling insurers to sell Medigap policies that filled some of the program’s most significant coverage gaps, such as coverage for vision and dental care, and that reduced or eliminated its sizeable copayments and deductibles. When the program launched, more than 80 percent of beneficiaries who had previously maintained private coverage purchased these new supplemental policies. Medicare also gave some insurers the chance to earn additional revenue by administering claims as carriers and intermediaries.

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Close-up of a stethoscope on an American flag

Healthcare Already Taking Center Stage in 2020 Democratic Primary Race

With Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announcing that she was forming a Presidential exploratory committee, I suppose that means the 2020 Democratic Primary is off to the races. Joining her are some lower profile candidates, including John Delaney (former MD congressman), Richard Ojeda (WV state senator and former congressional candidate), Tulsi Gabbard (HI congresswoman), Julian Castro (former secretary of HUD). And within the last week, senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) put their hats in the ring.

While many issues are likely to play prominent roles in this campaign — immigration, taxes, inequality, housing, universal pre-k, college affordability, environment/climate change — healthcare is likely to play an outsized role after Democrats found it to be a winning issue in 2018.  Read More