Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s silence on how she plans to pay for Medicare for All has turned into a problem at an important moment in her campaign. Right as she has become one of the clear frontrunners in the Democratic race — if not the frontrunner — she walked out of the fourth Democratic debate a bit bruised from her unwillingness to answer the question about whether she would raise taxes to pay for the benefits.
Warren has promised to release her plan about paying for the benefits. “Right now the cost estimates for Medicare for All vary by trillions and trillions of dollars and the different revenue stream for how to fund it, there are a lot of it,” she said in Iowa. “This is something I’ve been working on for months and months, and it’s got just a little more work until it’s finished.”
The plan will likely involve a package that mixes higher taxes and other revenue streams in exchange for eliminating the deductibles and premiums as well as other out-of-pocket expenses. Warren might make some adjustments to proposed benefits to lower the high estimates that are currently being projected.
But to take control of this debate, Warren needs to offer more than a policy brief about finance. She has the chance to turn this challenge into an opportunity to make this part of her signature issue — restoring security to middle class Americans. It’s an issue that has gotten drowned out with all the emphasis on health care.
During the televised debates, the conversation about paying for Medicare for All has overwhelmed almost every other domestic issue. The good news for her and other proponents of this idea is that although polls show that 55% of Democrats would prefer to build on the existing Affordable Care Act, 51% of all Americans support a Medicare for All approach — a good sign of the potential to win votes across the aisle.
Warren made her name fighting for the middle class
While Barack Obama was in office, Warren made a name for herself by fighting for middle-class families and offering real solutions to the economic struggles that they faced on matters such as debt. At the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she fought to protect the rights of average Americans in the world in the financial sector.
Her own life story is so powerful on the campaign trail because it comes out of this experience. Families have been struggling to keep up with higher costs, vanishing benefits, and fleeting jobs for decades. Health care concerns fit right in.
With this Medicare for All plan, she needs to explain why it is important to the family budgets of Americans who are struggling to get by in the modern economy.
Equally important will be her ability to make a strong case about what the alternative to Medicare for All would be. In other words, what happens if the current health care system, dominated by the commercial insurance industry, remains intact without any major reform?
To win this debate among Democrats and in the national electorate, she needs to show that her plan will provide the most efficient, cost-effective and equitable health care system possible.
Given the increased costs that patients are continuing to experience, even with the Affordable Care Act, Warren needs to explain why costs would rise even more dramatically if Congress doesn’t go big. It will be crucial to demonstrate that by providing the public with immense leverage over providers, through government insurance, the country would finally be able to contain and drive down costs in the long-term and make the obligations from patients more predictable.
Even if taxes go up, she needs to show that this reform would improve the yearly income of working families and offer them more stability notwithstanding the vicissitudes of health.
Solving the tax question is not enough. The only way to turn Medicare for All into a campaign theme that can win broad political support in the fall election will be to reframe the issue toward something greater than costs. Warren has an opportunity to make the case that this is not a left-of-center idea but in fact a way to bring greater security to all middle-class families.