- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2019

Sen. Kamala D. Harris introduced her own “Medicare for All” health proposal Monday, promising a kinder and gentler version of fellow 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernard Sanders‘ health market takeover.

Ms. Harris, who a month ago appeared to embrace Mr. Sanders‘ call to end private insurance, now says she doesn’t want to do away with private insurers altogether, saying they can play a role as long as their plans meet the same standards as Medicare.

The California senator said she decided the proposals being offered were unsatisfactory after listening to voters on the campaign trail.

“I have heard from people, and they want a different way,” Ms. Harris told reporters while campaigning in Detroit ahead of this week’s debate. “And so I went back to the drawing board and said ‘OK, let’s create our own plan.’”

She envisions phasing in an expanded Medicare system over 10 years, a slower transition than the four years in Mr. Sanders‘ proposal. And she sees a role for private insurers as long as they play by Medicare’s rules.

She said her plan would mean the same benefits as Mr. Sanders‘ proposal but with somewhat lower costs and more options.

She also would exempt households making less $100,000 per year from Mr. Sanders‘ premium tax, instead imposing a new tax on financial transactions.

Ms. Harris has struggled in recent months for consistency on her health care stance. In 2017, she was one of the original co-sponsors to join Mr. Sanders in backing his Medicare for All bill.

In April, she again signed onto Mr. Sanders‘ plan in the new Congress, saying at a CNN town hall that month in response to a question about private insurance, “let’s eliminate all of that” and “move on.”

Then at the first Democratic debate last month, she raised her hand when candidates were asked if they would ditch private insurance plans in favor of a government-run one.

She walked her answer back the next morning, saying she would not work to abolish private health insurance and that she thought the question was about candidates’ personal health insurance policies.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s campaign knocked Ms. Harris on Monday for her stance.

“It would have been much better, in retrospect, if she had just not raised her hand,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “She opened herself up to the charge from Biden that she’s trying to have it both ways.”

Mr. Sanders‘ campaign, meanwhile, said Ms. Harris has surrendered to the health insurance industry.

“This plan is centered around privatizing Medicare, enriching insurance executives and introducing more corporate greed and profiteering into the Medicare system,” said Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir. “Further, we can’t wait 10 years to fix a dysfunctional health care system.”

The plan did win praise from President Barack Obama’s former health secretary, who oversaw the implementation of Obamacare.

Kathleen Sebelius said Ms. Harris‘ vision is “achievable” and “clear” and is a commitment to making access to health care “a right for all Americans, regardless of income.”

“This plan builds on the progress we made in the Affordable Care Act and expands upon its promise of universal coverage through a sensible expansion of the popular Medicare system,” Ms. Sebelius said.

Ms. Harris on Monday applauded Mr. Sanders for his work on the issue, but Mr. Bannon said it’s more likely she was hoping to compete for less liberal voters who currently are backing Mr. Biden.

“Basically she is sort of fishing from the same pool as Biden, going for the moderately liberal Democratic vote,” he said.

Ms. Harris will be standing next to Mr. Biden on the debate stage in Detroit Wednesday night, after she drew attention during the first debate for confronting him over his past stance on desegregation busing.

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