On April 22, CNN held a succession of town halls that pressed 2020 Democratic presidential candidates on a variety of American political issues. During her portion of the evening, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) departed from fellow “Medicare for All” sponsor Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) by claiming that private insurance companies would still exist post-implementation of the bill.
Will there be room for private insurance companies to offer supplemental coverage under Medicare for All?
As Medicare for All has been endorsed by an increasing number of candidates, one concern that has been aired time and again is the status of individuals’ current private insurance. One member of the audience questioned Harris about this, which ultimately culminated in Harris having a back-and-forth with CNN’s Don Lemon.
When initially posed with the question, she seemed to insinuate that private companies would remain intact. However, as Lemon continued to push Harris on the subject, she suggested that private companies could provide “supplemental insurance.”
Watch the video below:
The Medicare for All bill sponsored by Harris and Sanders explicitly bans the sale of private health insurance coverage that “duplicates the benefits provided” by the act. This stipulation of the bill would take place after four years, as Lemon noted.
During a previous CNN town hall in January, Harris was specifically asked about private insurance companies under the Medicare for All system.
“Let’s eliminate all of that,” she said at the time.
So what kind of services might exist that Medicare for All would not cover? In Britain, according to the New York Times, the single-payer system covers everyone, but people can pay extra for insurance that lets them access private doctors. However, as Sanders points out below, the new program would provide Americans with a card that would allow them to “go to any doctor” and “any hospital” of their choosing.
Another possible example would be Canada. The Medicare for All bill most closely models Canada’s system, and in Canada, people are able to pay extra to get coverage for prescription drugs and dental. However, Harris makes clear that Medicare would be expanded to cover “dental, vision, hearing aids,” and a host of new health services.
Sanders has been more forthright about what he expects the single-payer system to do to private insurance companies.
Fact or Fiction?
In addition to Sanders’ account of his bill, Harris’ explanation of all the new things that Medicare for All would cover appears to refute her initial claim. Due to the bill’s “duplication” clause, health insurance companies would have to strictly provide coverage that exists outside of all the services that Harris named. Based on IJR’s research, we were unable to see much remaining ground for private insurance companies.
Unlike Sanders, who previously told CBS News that the $600 billion industry would be reduced to “nose jobs” under Medicare for All, Harris avoided stating outright that the private insurance companies would take a tremendous hit under her administration. These statements amount, at the least, to a massive misdirection.
IJR stops short of calling this claim completely fictitious only because an innovative marketplace may find holes with which to create new health coverage. However, individuals’ current private insurance and the private insurance industry as it is currently known would cease to exist. As such, IJR rates this claim mostly fiction.
IJR reached out multiple times to Harris’ office and campaign for clarification on what was meant by supplemental insurance but had not received a response at the time of publication.