Pandemic pulls Biden, Dems further left

Progressives are insisting the party embrace “Medicare for All” in grim times.

The coronavirus pandemic and the economic devastation it’s unleashed are pushing Joe Biden and the Democratic Party further to the left on health care. But it may not be far enough for some progressives.

Biden keeps inching closer to the Bernie Sanders wing of the party without embracing “Medicare for All” by proposing to lower the eligibility age of the entitlement program from 65 to 60 and potentially extend government coverage to an additional 23 million people. He’s also backing a robust government-run public health insurance option that would auto-enroll low-income people who lose their jobs and provide another choice for Americans covered under Obamacare or at their job.

Those steps to strengthen the social safety net could tamp down the kind of infighting that roiled Democrats in the lead-up to 2008 and 2016 elections. But they come as emboldened progressives insist the party embrace Medicare for All in its 2020 platform, saying the pandemic and tens of millions of newly unemployed Americans make a strong case for eliminating private health insurance entirely and replacing it with a single-payer system.

“The pandemic has been an ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment when it comes to insurance companies,” said Josh Orton, a Sanders delegate and member of the platform drafting committee who voted to approve the platform earlier this month. “When everyone is getting thrown off of work, it becomes obvious why having your insurance connected to your employer is bonkers.”

Biden has maintained his opposition to Medicare for All from the primaries and criticized the plan as too costly and unrealistic at a news conference Tuesday. And the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee on Monday all but ruled out formally endorsing the system in the party’s 2020 plank in a lopsided 36-125 vote. The challenge for Biden will be to continue the work of a “unity task force” he set up with Sanders while pursuing incremental but decidedly progressive policies like auto-enrolling low-income people in the public option.

“There’s no question that the pandemic has peeled back the cover on some real flaws in the American health system and made them much more stark, and it increases momentum towards a universal health care plan,” said Kathleen Sebelius, the former secretary of Health and Human Services now advising the Biden campaign.

Biden’s positions mark a noticeable shift from before the pandemic, when the discussion was centered more on containing health costs than expanding coverage. President Donald Trump’s budgets, for example, proposed cutting billions of dollars from Medicare, despite his campaign pledge to leave the program alone. Biden’s policies are also notably more ambitious than the Democrat-controlled House, where there has not been a vote on the public option, much less Medicare for All.

“This is health care moonshot time,” said Irwin Redlener, the founding director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University who served on the Biden campaign’s public health task force earlier this year. “My sense is that we’re not going to see a moderate, watered down, gradual series of changes. I expect a huge plan that would forever change how Americans get health care.”

Still, some inside and outside the campaign would like to see bolder proposals that edge closer to a single-payer health system, believing the country’s grim [ … ]

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