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Medicare for All: Where the Democratic candidates stand

A pic stitch of Bet O'Rourke, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warre (D-Mass.)
Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Photo: Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidates are laying out plans for expanding health-care coverage, with Medicare for All overpowering the conversation.

The big picture: Most 2020 Democrats say they buy into the concept of universal health care, except they vary on how to achieve it — and on which plan would be more appealing to achieve nationwide support.

  • The Medicare for All bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders has 16 co-sponsors including several 2020 Democrats. Both Sanders' bill and a bill from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) lay out paths for eliminating private health insurance. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) reintroduced a bill in February that offers a buy-in option.

Medicare For All

This would move the U.S. in the direction of a single-payer system, where the government would serve as the negotiator between patients and providers in health-care transactions.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to eliminate private insurance and establish a single source of coverage for prescriptions, medical, vision, dental and mental health care. He introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2019.
  • Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is a co-sponsor of Sanders' Medicare for All Act. She has been vague about her strategy for Medicare for All. Warrens' campaign website calls for a "down payment" on Medicare for All, and at a CNN town hall in March she said she would "get everybody at the table" to "figure out how to do Medicare for All," which could include a "temporary role" for private insurance companies.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is a co-sponsor of Sanders' Medicare for All Act, though she has switched her stance on health care several times, most recently clarifying she does not support abolishing private health insurance.
  • Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro supports it, saying at an event with Iowa Democrats that the U.S. should "be the healthiest nation" in the country, per the Hill.
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii): supports Medicare for All, but doesn't want to eliminate private insurance.
  • Author Marianne Williamson: Supports a "Medicare for All model," according to her campaign website.

Medicare or Medicaid expansion

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is a co-sponsor of Sen. Debbie Stabenow's Medicare at 50 Act, which allows people ages 50-64 to buy into Medicare. Booker is a co-sponsor on Sanders' bill. He is a co-sponsor on Sanders' 2019 Medicare for All legislation, and
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) told CNN she wants to expand Medicaid and Medicare and doesn't want to get rid of private health care right away. She supports the Medicare at 50 Act.
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke supports universal health care, but is not including Medicare for All in his presidential campaign. He is backing a House Democratic proposal called Medicare for America, which calls for expanding government-run health coverage while keeping employer-sponsored insurance plans, CNN reports.
  • Former tech executive Andrew Yang advocates for a single-payer health-care system. He believes that "private health insurance should be allowed to continue to serve those who want to opt out of the public option," per the Washington Post. "However, I expect the public option to be able to out-compete the private options and that most private options would disappear over time."
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-Ind.) wants to expand Medicare coverage and keep private health insurance plans, resembling former Vice President Joe Biden's plan. Uninsured Americans would automatically be enrolled, while others can opt-in.
  • Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) is a co-sponsor of the House version of Sanders' Medicare for All Act. However, he also supports modifying the Affordable Care Act and adding a public option allowing Americans to buy into Medicare without eliminating private health insurance.
  • Mayor Wayne Messam (D-Fl.) says Medicare for All is one of the better plans available, but also supports Medicare for America — which maintains private insurance.
  • Former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak: Supports expanding the Affordable Care Act and introducing a public option.

Opposed to Medicare For All

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden: Opposes Medicare for All. He supports an optional Medicare buy-in. Biden's plan would create a government option for enrollees in Affordable Care Act exchanges, the Washington Post reports. Employers could also buy into the plan.
  • Former representaREtive John Delaney: Says Medicare for All is a "bad policy" and is "political suicide" for Democrats in an op-ed.
  • Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.): Does not support Medicare for All. Bennet introduced Medicare X with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as an alternative.
  • Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mo.): Does not support Medicare for All, and says there are many other options to consider for affordable health care.

The bottom line: Medicare for All has been a more divided idea among Americans compared to a buy-in, per Kaiser polling from January. Presidential candidates have been slow to endorse Medicare for All in its entirety as Republicans criticize the party for embracing socialist ideals.

Go deeper: 5 takeaways from the third Democratic debate