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Harris Releases ‘Medicare for All’ Plan That Allows for Limited Private Insurance

Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders during the second night of the first Democratic 2020 debate in Miami, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Senator Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) released a health-care proposal on Monday that preserves a limited, tightly regulated, private-insurance market, finally articulating her position on the role of the private market after struggling to do so throughout her early primary campaign.

Harris’s plan, which comes days ahead of the second round of Democratic primary debates in Detroit, represents a more moderate approach than that championed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who has called for the total elimination of the private health-insurance market. Like Sanders, Harris would allow every American access to an expanded Medicare program, but she would also seek to preserve a supplementary private-insurance option called Medicare Advantage.

“We will allow private insurers to offer Medicare plans as part of this system that adhere to strict Medicare requirements on costs and benefits,” Harris wrote in a Medium post laying out the plan. “Medicare will set the rules of the road for these plans, including price and quality, and private insurance companies will play by those rules, not the other way around.”

While Sanders’s plan calls for reaching universal Medicare coverage in four years, Harris allows for a ten-year timeline. Her plan also differs dramatically from Sanders’s in that it would not raise taxes on the middle class.

Harris’s plan does place her to the left of the relatively moderate frontrunner Joe Biden by entirely eliminating the employer-based system that more than 150 million Americans currently rely on for coverage.

Throughout the early primary season, the former California attorney general has struggled to articulate her position with respect to the future utility of the private insurance market.

After initially telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that she would eliminate the private market during a January town hall, Harris backtracked during a subsequent interview, insisting that there would still be a role for “supplemental” private insurance under her plan. She then confused voters further during the first Democratic primary debate, raising her hand when asked if she would eliminate private insurance, only to later say that she misheard the question and would not, in fact, eliminate it entirely.

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