The first big battle over "Medicare for All" is about to begin

Data: Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll of 1,190 U.S. adults, Jan. 9–14, 2019. Margin of error ±3 percentage points; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Democrats’ 2020 primary has begun, and that means the battle to define "Medicare for All" isn’t far behind. The Kaiser Family Foundation's latest polling offers a couple of key data points to help inform that debate.

The big picture: More modest plans are more popular. Every version of expanded public health insurance broke 50% in the Kaiser poll.

  • An optional Medicare buy-in limited to people over 50 — pretty much the most limited idea on the table — was the most popular, at 77% favorability.
  • Full-scale single-payer brought up the rear at 56%.

People are persuadable. A national health plan started out at 56% favorability.

  • When pollsters read people talking points in favor of such a bill — that it would cover everyone, and that it would eliminate insurance premiums — support went higher.
  • But when people heard talking points against the idea — that it would eliminate private insurance, or require tax increases — support fell.

One more warning sign for advocates aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders' sweeping plan: 55% said they believe Medicare for All would allow them to keep their existing plans, and a 39% plurality said they didn't think it would affect them very much, for better or worse.

  • Proposals like Sanders' would move everyone into a single plan, which by definition affects everyone. And as we learned with the ACA, selling the public on even a relatively small change can be hard.

What Democrats want: A plurality of Democrats said their top priority is safeguarding the ACA, but "implementing a national Medicare-for-All plan" came in second, tied with reducing drug costs.

  • Republicans and the health care industry will oppose any of the specific proposals floating under the "Medicare for All" banner.

G0 deeper: What "Medicare for All" could look like