Of all the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president, I think Elizabeth Warren is the best choice to challenge Trump. She has bold plans to address the nation’s structural problems and she has a demonstrated ability to generate enthusiasm on the campaign trail. But I’m increasingly puzzled by her insistence on pushing a Medicare-for-All plan that plays right into the GOP’s scaremongering tactics and that probably has little chance of getting through Congress.
Our health care system is undoubtedly broken and comprehensive reform is urgently needed. However, reform efforts need to reckon with the fact that most people are risk-averse when it comes to their health care. They may not like their current coverage (if they even have any), but current polling shows that they’re also not enthusiastic about a dramatic transition to a single-payer system. The same polling also shows that Americans overwhelmingly support a public option that could serve as an alternative to individual or employer-based coverage. At a time when people’s trust in government is already at abysmal levels, Warren’s strict adherence to a mandatory single payer plan ignores political realities and paints her into an ideological corner when she should be trying to grow her appeal. If the whole point of her campaign is to win the presidency, why push for a policy that is already unpopular and could become even less popular in the run-up to the general election?
Some of you reading this may accuse me of being a mushy moderate on this issue. Fair enough, but I think people are forgetting that the Affordable Care Act—a comparatively modest set of reforms—was fiercely opposed by conservatives and is still being challenged in court nearly a decade after its passage. A fight to pass Medicare-for-All would be an epic struggle that would likely exhaust all of President Warren’s political capital and failure could close the door on future reforms for years to come. A public option has its own implementation problems, but it already enjoys wide support and could improve people’s lives sooner.
I’m hopeful that Warren will show more flexibility on health care reform if she becomes the nominee. Trump will have plenty of strategies for attacking the eventual nominee. We should be careful about supplying him additional ammunition.