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Politics & Policy

Kamala Harris Backs Publicly Funded Health Care for Illegal Immigrants

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake, Iowa, August 9, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)

In May of 2019, Kamala Harris unequivocally told CNN’s Jake Tapper that she would make no distinction between American citizens and illegal immigrants on a broad array of measures. When Tapper referred to benefits for “people who are in this country illegally,” Harris replied: “Let me just be very clear about this. I am opposed to any policy that would deny in our country any human being from access to public safety, public education or public health, period.” Joe Biden’s position on the same matter has been murky: Like all of the other Democrats on stage he raised his hand when Savannah Guthrie asked, “Raise your hand if your government plan would provide coverage for undocumented immigrants.” His campaign later claimed that Biden meant only that undocumented immigrants could purchase health insurance via Obamacare. But Biden was specifically asked about Medicare and Medicaid last June, and he said, “Look, I think that anyone who is in a situation where they are in need of health care, regardless of whether they are documented or undocumented, we have an obligation to see that they are cared for.”

Harris’s campaign got off to a terrible start last January when she blithely said, also on CNN, that she would eliminate private health insurance, though she later walked back that position.

“The idea is that everyone gets access to medical care and you don’t have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through all the paperwork, all of the delay that may require,” Harris initially said. “Who of all us have not had that situation where you have to wait for approval and the doctor says, ‘I don’t know if your insurance company is going to cover this.’ Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.” She later clarified that by saying she was talking about eliminating bureaucracy and waste, not private health insurance, but as late as June 27 of last year, she was one of only two candidates at a Democratic debate who raised their hands when asked whether anyone would eliminate private health insurance. The next day she claimed she had misunderstood the question, which was “Many people watching at home have health insurance through their employer. Who here would abolish their health insurance in favor of a government-run plan?” Only Harris and Bernie Sanders raised their hands.

The Democratic Party position is usually slightly more nuanced: It involves not eliminating private health insurance directly but putting it out of business indirectly, so as to maintain plausible deniability with the aid of the media. First step: Set up a public option, or “Biden plan.” This would, of course, wipe out all private health insurers, as Joe Biden frankly admitted in his New York Times editorial board interview, because no private company would be able to compete with the federal system. Here was his exchange with Jeneen Interlandi of the Times:

JI: O.K. You can keep your doctors. What happens if employers curb their own offerings as the public option takes hold? There’s a lot of incentive ——

Bingo. They can automatically go get a public option.

JI: But they would lose their ——

Sure they would.

JI: An employer could take away, if someone likes their private insurance ——

No, no, here’s the deal. If you like your private insurance and your employer keeps it with you, you can keep it.

JI: But what happens if your employer cancels it?

If you can’t, you come on the Biden plan. You provide that option. You can get a gold plan where you do have nobody — you do not have to pay more than a $1,000 deductible. We significantly reduce drug prices, which, by the way, Republicans are looking to get done, O.K.? What you do is you provide that option. But if you like your plan, if you really like it, I don’t think we should come along and say, “You must give it up.”

JI: But if your employer cancels that plan, then you don’t get it, you don’t have that choice.

No, you don’t have the choice, but you had the choice to — that’s why — I’m not saying, I said, if you like your plan, you can keep it, assuming — I should add the obvious — if your employer doesn’t take it away from you. O.K.?

If you like your plan, you can keep it . . . unless it’s no longer available. Which it won’t be. But Democrats will blame the private insurers they drive out of business for going out of business.

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