When the Democratic candidates at Thursday night’s debate were asked if their Medicare for All plan would eliminate private health insurance, two people’s hands went up: Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris. Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio were the only candidates to take that position the previous night.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Sanders raise his hand. He’s long held that position. But it looked like Harris was reversing herself on the issue once again. In January, just days after she got into the race, Harris backed the idea of abolishing private health insurance in a CNN town hall. “Let’s eliminate all that, let’s move on,” she said.
Critics immediately pounced, and Harris quickly walked back that position, as CNN reported at the time:
As the furor grew, a Harris adviser on Tuesday signaled that the candidate would also be open to the more moderate health reform plans, which would preserve the industry, being floated by other congressional Democrats. It represents a compromise position that risks angering “Medicare-for-all” proponents, who view eliminating private health insurance as key to enacting their comprehensive reform.
Both the adviser and Harris national press secretary Ian Sams said her willingness to consider alternate routes to a single payer system should not cast doubt on her commitment to the policy
However, in several interviews after Thursday’s debate Harris said she misunderstood the question. Lester Holt asked: “Many people watching at home have health insurance through their employer. Who here would abolish their health insurance in favor of a government-run plan?” Harris said she thought he was asking if she personally would give up her private health insurance for a government-run plan, and reiterated that she is not in favor of eliminating private insurance in general.
This post was updated to include Harris’s clarification.