- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2019

Not all of the Democrats who want to be president are racing to the left.

Several candidates in the lower tier of the crowded 2020 field have delivered reality checks to the party’s liberal wing in recent days, telling activists and leading presidential contenders to get over the “Medicare for All” obsession.

Rep. Seth Moulton, a veteran and a 2020 hopeful who has firsthand experience with Veterans Affairs clinics — a close approximation to total government-sponsored health care — warned that it’s not a cure-all, recounting veterans dying while stuck on waiting lists or committing suicide in VA waiting rooms because of lack of access to mental health professionals.

“So I don’t want that system for you,” Moulton, a combat veteran and congressman from Massachusetts, told attendees at a CNN town hall. “I want different systems to compete, just like they do with other things in America, to give you the best health care in the world because that’s what you deserve.”

Meanwhile another candidate, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, drew boos when he told the California Democratic Party’s convention this weekend that Medicare for All was a political pipe dream.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman who’s turned into a surprising king-maker among liberal activists, gave him a Twitter tongue-lashing, suggesting Mr. Delaney “sashay away” from the Democratic presidential race.

Mr. Delaney’s camp, though, said he wouldn’t be cowed.

“If Democrats are serious about beating the president at the ballot box, we need less political grandstanding and more truth-telling from the Bernie wing of the party,” said Delaney spokesman Michael Starr Hopkins. “2016 should have taught us that if we allow this primary to become a popularity contest on Twitter rather than a debate of ideas in the public square, the country will lose.”

The clash underscores just how central Medicare for All has become to the 2020 race.

Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont has led the charge, pushing legislation to create a single-payer health-care system that would dramatically overhaul the existing system and virtually eliminate private health insurance.

Four other senators running for president — Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — have endorsed the Sanders plan, while Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Tim Ryan of Ohio are backing the House version.

But polls have sent mixed signals on whether Medicare for All is a winning issue.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, for instance, has held a double-digit lead in most national and early primary state surveys since entering the race in late April — though he’s making the case that the nation would be better off building off the success of the Affordable Care Act.

“We shouldn’t start over and we surely shouldn’t tear it down,” Mr. Biden said at his official kickoff rally. “To me, giving every American, every American the right to choose a public option like Medicare is the best way to get everybody covered, if they choose.”

A federal public option would aim to provide people who do not have job-based insurance with a government-backed plan that would compete on Obamacare’s marketplaces. Backers say it would offer cheaper coverage and could even drive down costs for private plans.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado and Mr. Moulton have lined up behind a Medicare buy-in option, which advocates say would wreak less havoc on the current system, and has more bipartisan support.

Mr. Moulton said a buy-in option is not only a more realistic political goal, but it’s also a good test to see if the feds can deliver on the promise of government-sponsored health care.

“If at the end of the day, under my system, the same system that President Obama wanted, if the public option outcompetes the private options and that’s what we end up with, fine,” he said. “But let’s make it better along the way.”

Support for a public option stands at 77 percent, including 69 percent of Republicans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

That compares to 56 percent of people who back the idea of Medicare for All — though the level of support plummets after people learn private health insurance would be abolished.

“The idea of having the option to join a public insurance program like Medicare sounds a whole lot better to people than being told you have to do it,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president for health reform at Kaiser. “But, most people have not yet focused on the details of these proposals, so they’re not necessarily in a position to judge how they’d be affected.”

The debate is certain to rage on through the primary cycle because health care is a chief concern of primary voters.

A recent Monmouth University survey found it was the top issue for half of Democratic caucus goers in Iowa and that nearly half of them said it is “very important” the party nominates someone committed to Medicare for All.

• David Sherfinski contributed to this article.

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