- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Sen. Bernard Sanders’s “Medicare for All” push has become a popular rallying cry among the 2020 presidential contenders, but it has lost steam in Congress, where the plan’s unknown cost and impact has splintered the Democratic Party as it plots its next health care moves.

Mr. Sanders announced the latest iteration of his plan on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, expanding the proposal he first rolled out after the 2016 election to include long-term care.

“This is a struggle for the heart and soul of who we are as American people,” the Vermont lawmaker said, comparing his effort to the pushes for women’s rights, civil rights and LGBTQ rights.

He again has the support of nearly every fellow senator running for president alongside him: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory A. Booker of New Jersey, and Kamala D. Harris of California have all embraced the Sanders-led push.

Overall though, the bill has failed to reach the same level of support as his last version in the previous Congress.

Former Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who had backed the bill, has resigned over sexual harassment accusations and his successor, Sen. Tina Smith, has yet to get on board.

“I think there is a disconnect between some elected officials in Washington and the majority of not just Democrats, but Democrats, Republicans and Independents,” said Neil Sroka, of Democracy for America. “What is happening right now is frankly the folks who are running for president are more attuned with where voters are on this issue.”

Mr. Sroka said advocates are playing the long game.

“I don’t think anyone is under the impression that Medicare for All is going to pass tomorrow or even next year, but there is a sense that the momentum is shifting and it takes some time for an ocean liner like the Democratic Party to shift direction,” he said.

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist, said another factor is that there’s more competition to write plans.

Some Democrats are floating a less ambitious proposal that would let more people buy into the Medicare program for seniors or the Medicaid program for low-income Americans.

Another bill would let people age 50 or older buy into Medicare. And a third proposal would make Obamacare more generous.

“I think what has changed from then and now is that not only is the bill more sweeping than it has been in the past, but also there are also a lot of different ideas on that table that were not around a few years ago,” Mr. Manley said.

Polls have sent mixed signals on Medicare for All. While most voters back the idea in the abstract, support plummets when they are told they could have to pay higher taxes, lose their existing health-insurance coverage or face longer wait times.

Democratic leaders have also thrown cold water Mr. Sanders‘ idea.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told The Washington Post last week she isn’t convinced ‘Medicare for All’ would live up to the hype and raised concerns over the cost of the program, which remains unclear.

“I’m agnostic,” the California Democrat said. “Show me how you think you can get there. We all share the value of health care for all Americans -— quality affordable health care for all Americans. What is the path to that? I think it’s the Affordable Care Act, and if that leads to ‘Medicare for All,’ that may be the path.”

For the most part, the 2020 field of Democratic is lining up behind Mr. Sanders.

“Health care must be a right, not a privilege,” Mrs. Gillibrand said at the press conference Wednesday. “It is what our country needs. This has to become the next social safety net. It has to become something that is there for you no matter what — no matter if you can afford it, no matter where you live, no matter what.”

But support is not universal.

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who has yet to gain traction in the 2020 presidential primary race, warned Mr. Sanders‘ plan is unrealistic.

“Eliminating private health insurance will decrease access and quality in health care and doom any chance of creating a universal health care system, yet it remains the type of talking point that may sound good but is bad policy,” Mr. Delaney said.

⦁ Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

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