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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 universal health-care coverage, with Medicare for All overpowering the conversation.

The big picture: All 2020 Democrats said they believe in the concept of universal health care, except they vary on how to get there — and on which plan can be more appealing to achieve nationwide support.

In Congress

  • 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

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): Wants to eliminate private insurance and establish a single source of health-care coverage for prescriptions, medical, vision, dental and mental health care.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has stuck by Sanders' bill, telling CNN's Jake Tapper that the U.S. needs to eliminate going through an insurance company and "move on." She also co-sponsored the Medicare at 50 Act and Schatz's State Public Option Act.
  • Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro: Supports it, saying at an event with Iowa Democrats that the U.S. should "be the healthiest nation," per the Hill.
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii): Supports Medicare for All, but doesn't want to eliminate private insurance.
  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: Supports single-payer health care, advocating for the general idea rather than a specific policy.
  • New Age spiritual guru Marianne Williamson: Supports a "Medicare for All model," according to her campaign website.
  • Former tech executive Andrew Yang: Advocates for a single-payer health-care system.

Medicare or Medicaid expansion

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden: 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.
  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is a co-sponsor of Sen. Debbie Stabenow's Medicare at 50 Act, which allows ages 50 to 64 to buy into Medicare. Booker is a co-sponsor on Sanders' bill.
  • 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. Supports Medicare at 50 Act.
  • Former Texas representative 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.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is a co-sponsor on Sanders' bill and supports Medicare at 50 Act.

Mixed statements

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) supports Medicare for all, but has been vague about how to achieve it. Her campaign website calls for a "down payment." 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.
  • Former representative John Delaney: In an interview with CNBC, Delaney said he supports creating a universal health care system, but not Medicare for All.

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 more socialist ideals.

Go deeper: Everything you need to know about the 2020 presidential candidates