Elizabeth Warren's Medicare for All Plan Is a Vision Statement for the Future She Wants

Image: Associated Press

On Friday, Elizabeth Warren released her much-anticipated plan on how to pay for Medicare for All. “My plan won’t raise taxes one penny on middle-class families. In fact, we’ll return about $11 TRILLION to the American people,” she wrote on Twitter. “That’s bigger than the biggest tax cut in our history.” In detailing how she plans to pay for Medicare for All, Warren is responding to critics, both on the left and right, who have noted her lack of specifics on the plan.

Her plan is an ambitious one—employers would contribute the money they currently pay for their workers’ private health insurance to Medicare, and the rest of the projected costs would be covered by, among other mechanisms, higher taxes on billionaires, taxing capital gains income, and cuts to a Defense Department slush fund. (Warren also ties comprehensive immigration reform to her plan, noting that it would lead to “federal revenue we can dedicate to Medicare for All as new people come into the system and pay taxes.”) By promising that taxes won’t be raised for people in the middle-class, Warren here is, as the healthcare activist and Medicare for All proponent Ady Barkan wrote glowingly in the Intercept, “performing what is perhaps the greatest feat of public policy jujitsu that I have ever seen.”

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Barkan continued:

She consulted the experts, she double-checked the numbers, and she dropped a codex of wisdom right in the middle of the teacher’s desk. And the political reverberations may be felt for decades.

Just imagine what will happen when the debate moderators ask her next time how she’ll pay for her plan. She can answer honestly and with authority that Medicare for All will mean zero health care costs and no increases in taxes for all but the wealthiest Americans.

It’s a solid, serious, ambitious plan, albeit one with question marks that will likely be endlessly debated by pundits and economists. But in reading what she’s put out so far, I’m struck less by how she plans to pay for it—a question that assumes a lot of unknowns and that, while necessary to defuse Republican and moderate Democratic talking points, is frankly less important than building the mass movement we need to make it politically possible—and more by the values she is claiming in staking out a clear, moral position. What’s fundamentally broken, she wrote, is a system that “allows private interests to profiteer off the health crises of the American people,” and one that “powerful health insurance and drug companies” are doing everything in their power to maintain.

“Today, in 2019, in the United States of America, the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, inadequate health coverage is crushing the finances and ruining the lives of tens of millions of American families,” Warren wrote in a document detailing her plan on her website.

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She continued:

And when it comes to health care, what’s broken is obvious. A fractured system that allows private interests to profiteer off the health crises of the American people. A system that crushes our families with costs they can’t possibly bear, forcing tens of millions to go without coverage or to choose between basic necessities like food, rent, and health—or bankruptcy. We must fix this system.

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“My daddy’s heart attack nearly sent our family skidding over a financial cliff,” she wrote. “Today I think about all the kids this year who will face the double blow of nearly losing a parent and then watching their lives turn upside down as their families struggle to pay a growing stack of medical bills.”

Warren has done her homework, as usual. And she’s making the necessary argument—that not only is there a potential way forward, but that it must by necessity take on the corporate actors who for too long have destroyed people’s lives.

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