What the U.S. can learn from other countries in the coronavirus fight


Coronavirus lessons that the U.S. can learn from other countries ...

The countries that have most successfully fended off the novel coronavirus have mainly done it with a combination of new technology and old-school principles.

Why it matters: There’s a lot the U.S. can learn from the way other countries have handled this global pandemic — although we may not be able to apply those lessons as quickly as we’d like.

The big picture: A handful of Asian countries, including South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, have succeeded where the U.S. and Europe have failed.

  • They were able to quickly bring the virus under control, reducing the number of new cases that cropped up each day. And they did it largely without shutting down schools, businesses and public life.

The bad news: It’s too late for the U.S. to simply do what worked in those countries. We’ve already made too many mistakes.

  • But there are still lessons for the U.S. to learn for future outbreaks — and, hopefully, there are some pieces of those countries’ larger strategies that we can adapt to our coronavirus response now.
Lesson 1: The playbook works

As a new infection begins to spread, you want to quickly test the people who might have it, and quarantine the ones who do. Then you want to figure out who else they might have infected, and test those people, and quarantine the ones who are indeed sick. This process gets repeated.

  • “If you don’t know what your population is that you’re supposed to be monitoring, you don’t have a chance,” said Claire Standley, an infectious-disease expert at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security.

This test-and-trace process is nothing new. It’s the standard playbook. South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan just executed it a lot better than the United States.

  • Testing and contact tracing are particularly important with this strain of coronavirus because people can spread it before they start to feel sick — so if you’re only testing the sickest patients, the virus is still spreading unchecked.
  • And it’s important to do this early. It’s a lot easier to stop five people from infecting another 15 than it is to stop 20,000 people from infecting another 60,000.

Next time a mysterious virus starts spreading abroad, better testing and a much faster response will be imperative.

Lesson 2: Technology can help

Singapore has gotten pretty draconian with its track-and-trace process.

  • The government tracks the location of residents’ smartphones, so it knows exactly who had come within a few feet of an infected or potentially infected person.
  • It uses the same location data to help enforce mandatory quarantines.

That might be too Big Brother for the U.S., but a voluntary version of it might work — we already consent to a whole lot of location tracking for much less important ends.

  • And researchers are already using population-level smartphone data to see, for example, which cities are flouting stay-at-home orders. That can help inform local response even without individualized tracking.
  • “I think we’re further along that pathway than maybe people think,” Standley said.

Taiwan, meanwhile, aided its coronavirus response by making better use of data it already had. It quickly merged its immigration and health care databases, giving authorities a real-time view of who was getting sick and where they had traveled.

  • That might be hard to copy in the U.S., though, because the relevant data are scattered across multiple local, state and federal agencies with little to no integration. And we have no centralized health data.
Lesson 3: Messaging matters

Public communication is one of the big things Italy — a leading example of what not to do — got wrong.

  • Some Italian officials downplayed the virus for too long. Leaders often contradicted each other, and sometimes themselves, about piecemeal interventions before finally locking down the entire country as cases skyrocketed.

Singapore, by contrast, came out early with a clear message: This was going to be bad for a while, and people needed to stick together and do their part.

The U.S., so far, looks a lot more like Italy.

  • President Trump has sent similarly mixed messages here, initially downplaying the virus and saying it would go away on its own before changing his tone as cases mounted.
What’s next

The U.S. can’t go back in time to get things right at the beginning. So we can’t match the success of places like South Korea.

  • Our best backup plan is to stick with aggressive social distancing and give our testing capacity more time to ramp up.
  • We don’t seem to be on track to ever achieve the kind of sophisticated track-and-trace programs Asia employed, but hopefully some cruder version can help us find our way out of this if we keep the number of new cases low in the meantime.

The bottom line: “If we had got on top of this thing two months ago, America would look very, very different,” Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, said in a recent interview with the New Yorker.





Does Gavin Newsom have the answer to Democrats’ health care fights?


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California’s governor discovered that single-payer is a better political slogan than policy prescription, but he may have found a path to help Democrats get there anyway.

A year and a half ago, Gavin Newsom was in the same place as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, running in a tough Democratic primary and vowing “it’s about time” for a single-payer health care system while dismissing his critics as “can’t-do Democrats” who refuse to think big.

Now he’s in a different place.

The sleek businessman with the wavy pompadour has changed his rhetoric and slowed his pace. “These things take time,” he acknowledged after his primary victory.

As governor, Newsom’s health care program has been more incremental than promised, annoying some allies in the single-payer movement while winning some unexpected praise from industry groups. But he also may have found something larger than his own agenda: A health care path that builds on past successes, enacts fresh reforms and may eventually lead to a single-payer system — without the political earthquake that so many predict under Sanders’ bill or Warren’s financing plan.

Newsom’s is by far the most relevant — and revelatory — experiential test of the Democratic health care ideas that will be so hotly debated on the Atlanta debate stage Wednesday night. And it offers something for everyone in the race to chew on: A testament to the power that a promise of a single-payer system can have in galvanizing the party’s base; the unforgiving realities that make a quick conversion to single-payer practically, and probably politically, impossible; and a way for a leader to win broader support for incremental steps that — if pursued diligently enough — could lead to universal coverage.

“This is the signature issue of the progressive left, and it’s absolutely driven by what’s happening in California,” said Doug Herman, a Democratic strategist based in Los Angeles, who attests to the appeal of single-payer as an issue. “‘Medicare for All’ could help Bernie and Elizabeth in the Democratic primary the same way it helped Gavin Newsom win the primary in California. But the deeper you go, the harder it is to explain how you’re going to pay for it.”

Newsom’s alternative steps include a return of the individual mandate requiring people to buy insurance or pay a tax penalty; stricter coverage requirements on mental health parity; expanded subsidies to help low- and middle-income people purchase coverage; more Medicaid spending to cover undocumented immigrants; and the creation of a much larger state-operated group-purchasing plan to drive down prescription drug costs.

These will be followed, if Newsom sticks to his intentions, by additional reforms generated by a 2020 commission of stakeholders that could lead to a much more highly regulated system. And that, some health experts believe, can put him on the doorstep of the Democrats’ Holy Grail: a universal, single-payer system.

“The governor continues to insist that we move forward towards a system that will cover everyone, that will be more affordable and that will be high quality. Single-payer is one point on the horizon to help to get us there,” top Newsom adviser Daniel Zingale told POLITICO. “Folks who are die-hard proponents of single-payer should not despair — that continues to be a guiding beacon for where we’re trying to go.”

* * *

Speaking to a home state crowd of more than 4,000 liberal activists in San Diego in early 2018, Newsom, the dynamic former San Francisco mayor who had spent eight years as lieutenant governor waiting for his chance at the top job, took a shot at his chief primary opponent, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was on a crusade to convince voters that single-payer was too expensive and impossible to achieve in California.

“My opponents, they call it snake oil. I call it single-payer,” Newsom said, borrowing a phrase Villaraigosa had employed to criticize Newsom’s lack of specifics in his health care agenda.

“It’s about access, it’s about affordability — it’s about time, Democrats,” Newsom said, buoyed by an electric, cheering crowd a few months before the primary election. “If these can’t-do Democrats were in charge, we would have never had Medicare and Social Security.”

Newsom’s early embrace, both of Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal and a $400 billion single-payer health care bill propped up in the state Legislature by the influential California Nurses Association, earned Newsom highly coveted backing from Sanders supporters and other skeptics on the left who worried he was too moderate.

He has long cultivated an image as a political risk-taker willing to battle his own party, in earlier eras pushing gay marriage and legalization of marijuana to the forefront of the Democratic agenda in California.

Newsom said his single-payer message was about “more than a political campaign,” it was about “Democrats acting like Democrats” in a battle for the soul of America against “a president that doesn’t have one.”

“Democrats do not succeed by playing it safe,” Newsom said in the campaign. He went on to defeat Villaraigosa by more than 20 points, and barely flinched at the general election challenge from Republican real estate investor John Cox.

“It was an ideological purity test, and Newsom won it,” said Mike Madrid, a Sacramento-based Republican strategist who led Villaraigosa’s campaign. “Health care is something that has defined the Democratic Party since at least the 1970s, but this was new. I was shocked to see the desire Democratic primary voters had to be lied to.”

After the primary, Newsom largely ignored his Republican opponent, instead pouring time and resources into helping down-ticket Democratic candidates beat Republicans in House and state legislative districts. Democrats ended up unseating six Republicans in the Legislature, solidifying its Democratic supermajority, and flipping seven Republican-held battleground seats in the U.S. House.

Andrew Acosta, a Sacramento-based political consultant, said disdain for President Donald Trump fueled those races, but that Newsom did help fire up the Democratic base in traditional Republican strongholds, including in the Central Valley and Orange County.

“I don’t think he was ever in any trouble with Cox, so he was able to do other things,” Acosta told POLITICO.

Newsom’s fiercest allies, meanwhile, were focused on keeping him committed to single-payer. The California Nurses Association and others on the left were growing increasingly anxious that he’d moved too far to the middle, even as they pumped money into a campaign bus with the slogan: “Nurses trust Newsom.”

“He did not run on being an incrementalist governor,” said Stephanie Roberson, chief lobbyist for the California Nurses Association in Sacramento. “If he bit off more than he can chew, he should say that.”

She referenced a series of single-payer campaign promises Newsom had made in seeking their support early in his campaign. “I’m a Californian. I don’t like waiting,” Newsom said early on. “When I’m governor, I will not wait for federal action. … I’m tired of politicians saying they support single-payer but that it’s too soon, too expensive or someone else’s problem.”

Newsom later began to shift his message away from single-payer, instead brandishing his reputation as the former two-term San Francisco mayor who took on the city’s business elite, passing a universal health care program for city residents regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay, funded in part by fees on employers.

Newsom remained firm on his goal of adopting a universal-care system for California. But single-payer would take much, much longer, if it was even possible. Weeks before the 2018 election, he argued that it was “lazy” for supporters to interpret his single-payer campaign pledge as a promise that was “achievable overnight.”

“It was always about universal health care. That’s the goal,” Newsom said. “I’ve always believed that single-payer financing is the most effective, efficient way to achieve it.”

But, he said, he’d “deeply discovered” that “single-payer financing means a million different things to a million different people.”

Democratic and Republican strategists told POLITICO that the way single-payer played out in the Newsom-Villaraigosa contest is exactly how they see the fight between the liberal presidential candidates touting Medicare for All and the moderates vowing to improve Obamacare: First, promise Medicare for All. Win the primary. Then move to the middle to pick up more middle-of-the-road voters, and start explaining how you were misunderstood all along.

“In this Trump era and a time of immense tribalism, once you start to question numbers and math, you become a heretic,” said Madrid, the Republican strategist. “We saw that in the 2018 California Democratic primary, and that’s what’s on full display in the 2020 presidential fight with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.”

“People didn’t want a centrist,” he said, recalling the Newsom-Villaraigosa fight. “They wanted an ideological warrior.”

* * *

They may have gotten a warrior, but some of the ideology got left behind.

Industry groups worried about Newsom coming into office. Now, they see a governor growing more moderate, one who has come around to their side and with his actions decided that building a universal health care system using the current network of payers and providers is much more realistic and politically palatable.

“The reality … and the governor knows this, is that the federal roadblocks and the state roadblocks to single-payer are real,” said Charles Bacchi, president and CEO of the California Association of Health Plans, which represents major health insurers across the state.

The first day Newsom took office, he staked out major health care priorities on the wish list of industry groups, including insurers, hospitals and doctors: Bringing back the individual health insurance mandate after a Republican-led legal fight had gutted it nationally. Higher provider reimbursement rates. An expansion of Medicaid to cover undocumented immigrants up to age 26, alleviating pressure on public hospitals and emergency rooms saddled with millions of dollars each year in uncompensated care.

Instead of cutting insurance companies out, Newsom has helped bolster their business by restoring a state-based health coverage mandate and expanding taxpayer-financed insurance subsidies for middle-class Californians — even higher than those allowed under Obamacare.

He argues such measures will further stabilize the insurance market and help more people struggling to afford coverage.

He suggested to POLITICO earlier this year that he may go even further next year by covering undocumented seniors. And he is also developing incentives, including higher provider pay, for doctors who do a better job of keeping people healthy by reducing chronic disease and improving care for mothers and babies.

He’s spearheading a massive overhaul of public-private drug purchasing, leading initiatives to drive down soaring pharmaceutical costs, he hopes, by creating a single state bulk purchasing system to negotiate deeper discounts with drugmakers. Four major counties have joined, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Clara.

And his administration is beginning a major transformation of the state’s Medicaid program to better serve the 13 million low-income Californians who depend on it.

These initiatives could provide a workable template for a Democratic health reform agenda that presidential candidates backing single-payer should study and learn from, health policy experts say.

“You can’t just wipe out the existing system and start over,” said Joe Kutzin, who leads the health care financing team at the World Health Organization, working on establishing universal systems of care around the globe.

In most developed countries — even those held up as ideal single-payer systems — large-scale change happens more incrementally, given what Kutzin described as immense political difficulty implementing “big-bang reform.”

“Winning the argument about universal coverage first, I think, is really important,” he said. “Is there agreement that no one should become poor or die because they don’t have health coverage? The United States political system doesn’t have agreement on that basic principle, and that can get derailed by discussions about wiping out the insurance industry.”

Kutzin said the Affordable Care Act advanced the national conversation about whether health care should be a basic right — a belief that every major Democratic presidential contender says they’re for — but health care is still ingrained in the United States as an earned benefit attached to employment. And, 14 Republican-controlled states still haven’t expanded Medicaid to childless adults, while others are making it more difficult for poor people to qualify.

Like faithful single-payer advocates, Kutzin believes a uniform financing system can achieve universal coverage, and deliver it cheaper. But that ignores political realities.

“Getting to single-payer from where you are now, I’m afraid, generates a lot of resistance that risks losing the objective of universal care,” he said. “The reality, and I think the difficulty, is the system is so messy right now that almost any path to those goals are extremely painful. But standing still is really painful too.”

Tsung-Mei Cheng, a health policy researcher at Princeton who studies single-payer systems around the world, said policies Newsom has advanced can eventually lead to single-payer.

“Fix Obamacare — California is doing this,” she said. “Going from private health insurance to single-payer is a tall order. It would be different if people living in Alabama and Tennessee and all these Republican states agreed that health care is a right, but in our country, we are split.”

She said steps Newsom has taken are in line with pragmatic measures she and her late husband, Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt, believed states could do under Obamacare. Reinhardt helped craft Taiwan’s single-payer system and broadened America’s understanding of why the United States spends more money on health care than any other industrialized country yet has worse health outcomes, in his study on uncontrolled prices.

Cheng said if California can eventually achieve universal coverage, and pass tight cost control mechanisms to reduce overall health care spending, it can serve as a model for other states and possibly, provide a state and national template for single-payer.

“You’re almost there,” she said. “The one big downside of California and Obamacare is there really isn’t any cost control mechanism, and that is necessary. If you can manage to get universal care and costs under control, then you’re there.”

But, she said, the piecemeal steps California is taking “can be a morale booster for the whole country” as Democrats and Republicans fight over the right approach.

The state has already cut its uninsured rate to about 7 percent, down 10 percentage points from the early days of Obamacare. Measures taken this year are expected to further expand coverage and access.

It could be the best any state could hope for in the immediate future. Going to all-out war with the health care industry over single-payer would be political suicide, Cheng suggested.

“Our political system allows itself to be influenced by these interest groups, and they’re very powerful,” Cheng said. “We in the United States have this congenital defect, and we’re stuck with it.”

She said regulating the market by paying all health care providers the same, regardless of coverage, and creating a public insurance option are good ideas for California to build on what the state has already done.

California is already considering those options under a single-payer health care commission established by Newsom and the state Legislature this year. Experts have said models in place in other countries can drive a more equitable, efficient delivery system for less money.

The commission is expected to begin its work in 2020, with its charge to consider a path forward on single-payer and tight cost control mechanisms, including a global budgeting system that establishes a fixed amount of health care spending for the state.

* * *

In unscripted moments last year during campaign bus tours through Los Angeles and California’s Central Valley — communities that are home to California’s largest uninsured population — Newsom alluded to reasons why he envisioned a slower path forward on single-payer.

He said he was eyeing different health care models used throughout the world, all of which included a major role for government as primary payer for health care. The so-called Bismarck model, used by Germany, Switzerland and Japan,was the most appealing for California, he said.

In general, it finances health coverage through a joint employer-employee payroll deduction, and retains a role for private doctors and hospitals. Some countries use a single government payer, while others have multiple insurers, but it provides no profits for health insurance companies and everyone is covered. A key feature is tight cost-control mechanisms on overall health care spending.

“Bismarck has more interesting tenets to what we do in California,” Newsom said last year.

He was also analyzing other systems, including a socialized medicine model under which the government owns hospitals, employs doctors and pays for health care as it does education and public safety. And he’d been studying traditional single-payer systems, like those in place in Canada and Taiwan.

Each model, he said, is better than the existing system. A key feature of any future initiative must include tight cost controls, Newsom says.

“There’s pieces of all three systems … that are easily categorized as versions of single-payer financing,” Newsom said. “Aspects of all three — that’s what we’re looking at for California.

In office, he has insisted that he remains committed to the idea of single-payer.

“I committed to this, and I want folks to know that I was serious about it,” the governor said on Inauguration Day.

Single-payer supporters and industry groups who reject the idea, meanwhile, are jockeying for inclusion in those discussions.

That could present political challenges for Newsom as he eyes larger changes ahead. His allies with the nurses union have already begun to publicly attack him, telling POLITICO earlier this year that its relationship with the governor is “on shaky ground.”

“The time is now, and I think he’s missing a moment to actually lead,” said Bonnie Castillo, executive director of the National Nurses United, which recently endorsed Sanders for president.

A California congressman with whom Newsom has had deep single-payer discussions suggested in an interview with POLITICO recently that the governor is dragging his feet.

“Our state of California should deliver on single-payer,” said Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents a vast swath of the ritzy Silicon Valley. “If California, where you have the biggest political support for the single-payer movement, isn’t going to lead, then where are we going to do it?”

Deep-pocketed industry groups such as the California Medical Association — major financial donors to Newsom during his campaign — say the governor hasn’t pleased them on everything, and they remain somewhat concerned about the longer-term prospect of single-payer, but generally they’re happy with steps he’s taken.

“When many people say single-payer, they’re really talking about a payment system that may ultimately reimburse at government-set levels that pay less than cost — that will be a challenge for hospitals,” said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, in an interview.

She said hospitals have “serious concerns” about politicians advancing single-payer at both the state and federal level.

“California’s hospitals will be involved and engaged,” Coyle said. “We have a tremendous opportunity to look at the issue of affordability that does not necessarily put at risk the care we’re able to provide to the population today.”

Bacchi, the president and CEO of the California Association of Health Plans, said the plans would fight back against any single-payer effort.

“What California’s health plans believe about transforming our health care system is that we should focus on building and improving the health care that’s working for millions of Californians, not starting from scratch and putting at risk the care that so many Californians rely on,” he told POLITICO. “Obviously, we’re concerned that single-payer might distract from all the other work we may need to do.”

Sara Flocks, chief lobbyist for the California Labor Federation, which backs single-payer, characterized Newsom as “untested” on health industry fights. Although he has gone after the pharmaceutical industry and soaring drug prices, that is a more politically popular stance than going after insurers, doctors and hospitals, she said.

But ultimately, if Newsom wants to control rising health care costs and expand the system in a sustainable way, that’s what he may have to do. The rough political terrain ahead could rival California’s bruising 2017 health care battle, during which the leader of the state Assembly denied a contentious single-payer bill a hearing that prevented it from advancing.

That fight, brought by the nurses, set the stage for Newsom’s forceful stance on the issue, and will continue shaping the future debate, Flocks said.

“Senate Bill 562 was a watershed moment for California,” said Flocks, an appointed member of the single-payer commission. “It opened a lot of doors to get to where we are today. What’s at stake is how we shape the national conversation.”

Newsom, faced with charges about backtracking on his single-payer promise, said last year “I haven’t lost my idealism.”

“But it’s one thing to campaign,” he added. “It’s another thing to govern.”




Medicare-for-All Opponents Push Ads Around Democratic Debate


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An industry group opposed to Medicare for All will launch a slate of new television and digital ads around the Democratic presidential debate on Thursday as part of a seven-figure campaign aimed at eroding support for a federal health-care system.

Ads will also run on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, according to the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, whose membership includes drug makers, insurers, and others in the health-care industry. The organization said it will take over YouTube’s homepage following the debate.

The ad blitz show industry groups view Medicare for All as a serious threat in a 2020 election. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who are among the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination, back replacing the U.S. health system with a government program that would cover everyone.

The ads say Medicare for All, as well as options that let people buy into a program like Medicare, would lead to higher taxes, worse health care, and amount to government control.

Backers of Medicare for All say the proposal would lower overall U.S. health-care spending, expand coverage nationwide, and free people from costly premiums and deductibles. They say the current system lets insurers and others in the industry make unseemly profits.

The campaign, which is also opposed to buy-in options such as the proposal backed by former Vice President Joe Biden, also launched ads around the previous Democratic presidential debates.


Biden, Sanders, Warren clash over Medicare for All in Houston


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The battle over health care that has dominated the Democratic race for the White House took center stage in Houston, where for the first time the top three candidates tangled over whether the nation is ready for sweeping reforms.

Former Vice President Joe Biden went back and forth at the opening of Thursday’s debate with the two progressives who are his leading challengers atop the polls, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Arguing that the “Medicare for All” proposal championed by Sanders would cost people their insurance, Biden called out the Vermont senator as a socialist and said his proposals would be too costly.

At one point in the debate, Biden said of Warren and Sanders that “nobody’s yet said how much it’s gonna cost for the taxpayer.”

He also pointed to the taxes that would have to increase for middle class people to pay for Medicare for All.

“There will be deductible in your paycheck,” Biden said, referencing the chunk that taxes would take out of people’s pay.

Sanders said most Americans were getting a raw deal in terms of their present health care costs compared with countries that have systems more similar to his Medicare for All approach.

“Let us be clear, Joe, in the United States of America we are spending twice as much per capita on health care as the Canadians or any other major country on earth,” Sanders said. 

“This is America,” Biden retorted. 

“Yeah, but Americans don’t want to pay twice as much as other countries and they guarantee health care to all people,” Sanders responded. 

Health care is a top issue in the race according to polls, and Democrats believe they can win the White House if the general election against President Trump is focused on the issue.

But it is also the issue that divides the Democratic candidates the most, with Biden and other centrists proposing more modest steps, such as reforms to ObamaCare.

The battle over health care is intertwined with the debate Democrats are having over which of their candidates is best positioned to defeat President Trump, with some in the party worried that Warren and Sanders are too liberal to win a general election. Others say their bold ideas are what is needed for the party to defeat Trump.

Biden argues Medicare for All means scrapping former President Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, instead of building on it.

While Sanders touted that everyone would have coverage under his plan and that it would be more generous, with no premiums or deductibles, Biden countered with the cost of the proposal, which estimates put at around $32 trillion over 10 years.

In the debate’s first hour, Biden was already hitting Sanders and Warren over the cost of the plan.

“The senator says she’s for Bernie,” Biden said of Warren’s support for Sanders’s Medicare for All plan. “Well I’m for Barack.”

Warren, pressed by host George Stephanopolous on whether middle class taxes would rise from Medicare for All, did not directly answer, pivoting to argue that overall costs for the middle class would go down once the abolition of premiums and deductibles is taken into account.

“What families have to deal with is cost, total cost,” Warren said, adding: “The richest individuals and the biggest corporations are going to pay more, and middle class families are going to pay less.”

Other candidates were also in the middle of the Medicare for All exchanges.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who drew flak in the early months of the campaign for seeming to change her position on health care several times, touted the plan she eventually developed, to allow some private insurance to remain under Medicare for All by allowing private companies to administer some plans in a tightly regulated way.

“I want to give credit to Bernie. Take credit, Bernie,” Harris said, while adding, “I wanted to make the plan better, which I did.”

At another point in the debate, Biden dismissed the idea that employers would raise workers’ wages if employers no longer had to provide health insurance under a Medicare for All system. 

“My friend from Vermont thinks the employer’s going to give you back what you’ve negotiated as a union all these years … they’re going to give back that money to the employee?” Biden said.

“As a matter of fact they will,” Sanders interjected.

“Let me tell you something, for a Socialist you’ve got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do,” Biden responded. 

While all of the Democrats advocate large additional government spending to expand health insurance coverage, the debates over whether private insurance should remain as an option has proven to be a particularly fierce source of debate.

Republicans have sensed an opening on that point as well, eagerly bashing Democrats for wanting to take away employer-sponsored coverage that millions of Americans have. Sanders and Warren counter that Medicare for All coverage would be better insurance, with no deductibles at all, so people would not miss it.

“I’ve actually never met anybody who likes their health insurance company,” Warren said, noting people like their doctors, which they would be able to keep. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who has staked out a more moderate ground, tore into Sanders, though, over his plan’s elimination of private insurance.

“While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill, and on page eight of the bill it says that we will no longer have private insurance as we know it,” Klobuchar said.

“I don’t think that’s a bold idea, I think it’s a bad idea,” she added. 

Amid the division, Harris tried to strike a unifying note.

“I think this discussion is giving the American people a headache,” she said. “What they want to know is that they’re going to have health care and cost will not be a barrier to getting it.” 


I’ve lived the difference between US and UK health care. Here’s what I learned


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Earlier this year, I shattered my elbow in a freak fall, requiring surgery, plates and screws. While I am a US citizen, several years ago I married an Englishman and became a UK resident, entitled to coverage on the British National Health Service. My NHS surgeon was able to schedule me in for the three-hour surgery less than two weeks after my fall, and my physical therapist saw me weekly after the bone was healed to work on my flexion and extension. Both surgery and rehab were free at the point of use, and the only paperwork I completed was my pre-operative release forms.

Compare that to another freak accident I had while living in Boston in my 20s. I spilled a large cup of hot tea on myself, suffered second degree scald burns, and had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. In the pain and chaos of the ER admission, I accidentally put my primary insurance down as my secondary and vice versa. It took me the better part of six months to sort out the ensuing paperwork and billing confusion, and even with two policies, I still paid several hundred dollars in out-of-pocket expenses.
With debate raging in the US among Democrats about whether to push for a government health care system such as Medicare for All, there is no doubt in my mind that the NHS single-payer health care system is superior to the American system of private insurance.
As someone who suffers from chronic illness, is incredibly clumsy and accident-prone, and has two young children, I spend an inordinate amount of time in doctors’ offices and hospitals. When my family is in our home in York, England, our health care is paid for principally through direct taxation, and we have zero out of pocket costs.
In contrast, when we are in the US, we are on my employer-based insurance plan. After years with one provider, rising costs pushed the premiums alone to above 10% of my gross salary for the family plan, and I recently opted to switch to a new provider, whose premiums are a more modest but still eye-watering 7% of my salary. I have had to switch our family doctor and specialists, with the attendant hassle of applying to have our medical records released and transferred to our new providers. In addition to my premiums, both plans include significant co-pays, although my new provider does not have a deductible.

In Britain, I am not entitled to the annual well patient and women’s health check-ups that Americans can now receive without a co-pay or deductible thanks to the Affordable Care Act. As an asthma sufferer, I do, however, have regular annual reviews of my condition. When one of my children becomes ill, I am usually able to receive same-day treatment in both countries, although in both cases this involves showing up early for the urgent care clinic.
The comparative ease and security of the NHS is why the system retains such high levels of support from the British public, despite frustrations with wait times and other aspects of service provision. A recent poll found that 77% of respondents felt that “the NHS is crucial to British society and we must do everything we can to maintain it,” and nearly 90% agreed that that the NHS should be free at the point of delivery, provide a comprehensive service available to everyone, and be primarily funded through taxation. Britons’ affection for their NHS was dramatically enacted in Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympic opening ceremony extravaganza.
Yet, while I share my adopted countrymen’s support for the NHS, I can see almost no chance of America adopting a single-payer health care system of the kind described by Sens. Sanders and Warren any time soon. Sanders, Warren and other single-payer advocates not only face a strong and entrenched adversary in the American insurance industry, they also lack the broad public support for reform which characterized post-WWII Britain.
That broad public support for reform was crucial. Britain’s NHS system was very nearly defeated by opposing interests when it was introduced in the 1940s. It was initially opposed by the municipal and voluntary authorities, who controlled the 3,000 hospitals which Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan sought to bring under national administration, by the various Royal Colleges of surgeons and specialists, and by British Medical Association (BMA), the professional body representing the vast majority of the nation’s general practitioners, who stood to lose control of their private practices and become state employees.
At a meeting of doctors following the publication of Bevan’s proposals in January 1946, one physician claimed that “This Bill is strongly suggestive of the Hitlerite regime now being destroyed in Germany,” and another described the proposed nationalization of the hospitals as “the greatest seizure of property since Henry VIII confiscated the monasteries.” The BMA hostility persisted through rounds of negotiations lasting two years. Less than six months before the bill was set to come into effect on July 5, 1948, the BMA’s membership voted by a margin of 8 to 1 against the NHS, sparking serious fears within the government that GPs would refuse to come on board, effectively scuppering the NHS.
Bevan insisted that he would not cave but he did have to make several costly concessions to bring the doctors on board. First, he cleaved off the specialists (who were closely tied to the hospitals), by promising them that, if they signed on, they could continue to treat private patients in NHS-run hospitals in addition to their NHS patients, whom they would be paid to treat on a fee-for-service basis. Then, he offered the general practitioners a generous buyout to give up their stake in their private practices (effectively purchasing their patient lists), if they came on board. And finally, he promised them that the government would not be able to compel them to become fully salaried employees of the state without the passage of new legislation.
At the same time that Bevan offered the carrot of economic concessions, he also wielded the stick of public opinion against the doctors. Speaking in the House of Commons in February 1948, Bevan positioned single-payer healthcare as an issue of middle class survival, in language whose substance, if not its style, would not sound out of place in a 2020 Democratic primary debate: “Consider that social class which is called the “middle class.” Their entrance into the scheme, and their having a free doctor and a free hospital service, is emancipation for many of them. There is nothing that destroys the family budget of the professional worker more than heavy hospital bills and doctors’ bills.”
Bevan spoke for a public exceptionally united in support of an expanded state welfare policy as a result of the socially unifying experience of World War II. Fear of public backlash combined with economic incentives ultimately brought the medical establishment to heel.
Many were shocked when Bevan succeeded, but the BMA was arguably a less formidable threat to reform then than the American insurance industry is now. Insurance companies stand to be the biggest losers from a switch to single-payer health care, which seeks to achieve economies in large part through cutting out the profit-making middle man. As Elizabeth Warren noted in last Tuesday’s debate, US insurance companies reported $23 billion in profits last year. And the insurance lobby is determined to protect its position. That is why insurance companies are major donors in both state and federal election campaigns. The insurance industry has put massive resources into ensuring continued public and political opposition to the introduction of a single-payer system.
It’s possible that, if Americans were presented with an arguably cheaper and less bureaucratic health care system, they might decide that they liked it and were committed to doing everything they could to maintain it. But given the constellation of political forces in 21st century America, that just isn’t going to happen any time soon.

In Wednesday’s second Democratic debate, 7 of 10 candidates support Medicare for All


Democratic candidates take the stage during first debate in June.

Expanding coverage, lowering healthcare costs, central to Democratic agenda.

Tonight, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, Julián Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Michael Bennet, Jay Inslee, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bill de Blasio take the stage for round two of the Democratic presidential debates.

Seven support Medicare for All. The others – Biden, Bennett and Inslee have come out in favor of a public option. Here, in no particular order, is a look at where each candidate stands on healthcare coverage.

Joe Biden

As vice president to President Barack Obama, former Senator Joe Biden carries into this election the legacy of the Affordable Care Act. As president, Biden said he would protect the ACA and prevent further Republican attempts to dismantle it.

Unlike many of his Democratic rivals, Biden does not support full Medicare for All. Instead of getting rid of private insurance, Biden said he would build on the ACA through the Biden Plan to create a public health insurance option. As in Medicare, costs would be reduced through negotiating for lower prices from hospitals and other providers.

He also has a plan to increase the value of the ACA tax credits by eliminating the 400% income cap on tax credit eligibility and lowering the limit on the cost of coverage from 9.86% of income to 8.5%. This means that no one would spend more than 8.5% of their income on health insurance. Additionally,  Biden would base the size of tax credits on the cost of the higher-tiered gold plan, rather than silver plan.

Biden also supports premium-free access to the public option for individuals in the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA. States that have already expanded Medicaid would have the choice of moving the expansion population to the premium-free public option, as long as the states continue to pay their current share of the cost of covering those individuals.

Biden also promises to stop surprise billing, tackle market concentration, repeal the exception allowing drug companies to avoid negotiating with Medicare over drug prices and limiting the launch price for drugs that face no competition, among other actions.

In his words: “When we passed the Affordable Care Act, I told President Obama it was a big deal – or something to that effect.”

Kamala Harris

California Senator Kamala Harris often refers to her mother’s diagnosis of colon cancer and her Medicare coverage for treatment as an example of why all Americans should have Medicare for All.

Harris is looking to eliminate premiums and out-of-pocket costs through government insurance that guarantees comprehensive care including dental and vision and coverage. Harris gives no estimate of the cost of universal healthcare, but says taking profit out of America’s healthcare system would save money.

Her Medicare for All plan, which is similar to Senator Bernie Sanders – would cover all medically necessary services, including emergency room visits, doctor visits, vision, dental, hearing aids, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, telehealth and comprehensive reproductive care services. It would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.

As former Attorney General of California who won a $320 million settlment from insurers, Harris said she wants to take on Big Pharma and private insurers to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

She also has strong views on prosecuting opioid makers and for preserving women’s right to healthcare and protecting Planned Parenthood from the financial cuts and policies of the Trump Administration.

She would institute an audit of prescription drug costs to ensure pharmaceutical companies are not charging more than other comparable countries, a comprehensive maternal child health program to reduce deaths among women and infants of color, and rural healthcare reforms, such as increasing residency slots for rural areas with workforce shortages and loan forgiveness for rural healthcare professionals.

In her words on the ACA: “As someone who fought tooth and nail as Attorney General and as Senator to prevent repeal, that’s exactly what I will continue to do.”

Cory Booker

Senator Cory Anthony Booker, first African-American Senator from New Jersey, and former mayor of Newark, is also a Medicare for All proponent.

He also wants to implement universal paid family and medical leave.

He supports lowering costs for prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices and by importing drugs from Canada and other countries, the latter a policy announced today by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

He would also invest in ending the maternal mortality rate and work to reduce racial disparities in maternal mortality rates.

One of his big issues is expanding eligibility for long-term services and support for low and middle-income Americans needing care at home. He wants long-term care workers to be paid a minimum of $15 an hour.To limit the impact of the program on state budgets, the new costs associated with the expansion of Medicaid long-term care services and workforce standards would be financed entirely by the federal government in, effectively, a 100% match. The cost would be financed by making the tax code more progressive by reforming the capital gains, estate, and income taxes.

In his words: “Healthcare is a human right.”

Kirsten Gillebrand

Kirsten Gillebrand, U.S. Senator from New York, originally ran for a House seat in that state on a platform that supported the expansion of Medicare, a view she still holds, and in 2017 expressed support for Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill.

In May, Gillebrand reiterated her support, saying the best way to achieve a single-payer system is to let people buy-in over a transition period of about four to five years. She favors allowing a public option to create competition with insurance companies. Medicare needs to be fixed first so that reimbursement rates better reflect costs, she said.

In 2011 she helped pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides treatment to the first responders of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The law provides health monitoring and services for 9/11-related health issues among those exposed to the debris and tainted air of the attack’s aftermath.

In her words: “Under the healthcare system we have now, too many insurance companies continue to value their profits more than they value the people they are supposed to be helping.”

Bill de Blasio

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio believes everyone, including undocumented immigrants, has a right to receive healthcare, and has repeatedly voiced his support for a national single-payer health plan.

He and rival Elizabeth Warren raised their hands during the first debate when asked if they supported Medicare for All.

One of his accomplishments as mayor was signing a bill into law that established a paid sick leave and safe leave plan for the city.

First unveiled in January, the program NYC Care, guarantees healthcare for the roughly 600,000 New Yorkers who aren’t currently insured, which de Blasio touted as the “most comprehensive health system in the nation.” He has indicated that NYC Care could become a model nationwide.

The plan encompasses primary and specialty care, pediatric and maternity care and mental health services. The idea is that NYC Care works on what de Blasio said was a “sliding scale,” in which people can essentially pay what they can for care. While the city already has a public option for healthcare, de Blasio said NYC Care will pay for direct comprehensive care for people who can’t afford insurance or who aren’t covered by Medicaid.

The program costs $100 million per year for the city — an investment the mayor expects will yield returns.

In his words: “If we don’t help people get their healthcare, we’re going to pay plenty on the back end when people get really sick,” he said recently on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” broadcast.

Jay Inslee

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has planted a flag as “the climate change candidate” and in many ways he’s all in on that single issue, reasoning that things like healthcare policy “become relatively moot if the entire ecosystem collapses on which human life depends.”

That said, he has a strong case to make on healthcare by virtue of having just recently put his state’s money where his fellow candidates’ mouths are: in May he signed the country’s first public option into law in Washington.

Expect him to bring up that accomplishment — in which the state will contract with private insurers to create a public option that pays at Medicare plus 60 percent — in any conversation about healthcare, as he did in the first debate.

In his words: “We hope this will be a smashing success. We hope that it will give a shot of courage to other governors to move forward toward universal access. We were willing to take the leap and we’re gonna learn as we go along, I’m sure, and there will be some modifications. But we had to get started.”

Michael Bennet

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet supports a public option he calls Medicare-X. But where his plan stands apart from others is a strong focus on the rural-urban divide on access to care. He intends to create a healthcare policy that will ensure that all regions of the country are covered by available health plans, addressing what he calls a failure of the ACA exchanges.

His plan is unusually detailed and includes lowering prescription drug prices, closing existing gaps in care, and, yes, promoting telemedicine and other technology that can bolster rural healthcare. He also has provisions for combatting substance abuse, improving maternal and mental health, and bringing more support to senior caregivers.

In his words: “As president, I would build on the Affordable Care Act to cover everyone, rather than doing away with our current system. My Medicare-X plan gives every family the choice to buy an affordable public option or keep the plan they have today. It starts in rural areas, where there is very little competition and requires the federal government to negotiate drug prices. I have fought for this approach for almost a decade, because it is the most effective and fastest way to cover everyone and drive down costs.”

Julián Castro

The former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and San Antonio Mayor favors a Medicare for All, single-payer system.

To pay for the system, Castro has said he would raise taxes on corporations and on the wealthiest Americans — the “0.05, 0.5 or 1%,” he said.

While he favors a single-payer system, Castro said he would allow private insurance, saying that anyone who wants their own private insurance plan should be able to have one.

In his words: Castro said at an event in Iowa that, “The U.S. should be the healthiest nation in the world.”

Andrew Yang

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang of New York is founder of Venture for America, a two-year fellowship program for recent grads who want to work at a startup and create jobs in American cities.

He supports Medicare for All and has called the Affordable Care Act a step in the right direction that didn’t go far enough because access to medicine isn’t guaranteed and the incentives for healthcare providers don’t align with providing quality, efficient care.

Doctors are incentivized to act as factory workers, he has said, churning through patients and prescribing redundant tests, rather than doing what they’d prefer–spending extra time with each patient to ensure overall health.

Medicare for All will increase access to preventive care, bringing overall healthcare costs down. Cost can also be controlled directly by setting prices provided for medical services.

He cites the Cleveland Clinic, where doctors are paid a flat salary instead of by a price-for-service model. Redundant tests are at a minimum, and physician turnover is much lower than at comparable hospitals, he said.

And the Southcentral Foundation which uses a holistic approach to treat native Alaskans with mental and physical problems by referring patients to psychologists during routine physicals.

Also, the current system of employer-sponsored insurance prevents employees from having economic mobility.

In his words: “New technologies – robots, software, artificial intelligence – have already destroyed more than 4 million U.S. jobs, and in the next 5-10 years, they will eliminate millions more.”

Tulsi Gabbard

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is a military veteran who supports Medicare for All as a cosponsor of H.R.676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act.

But she is currently getting press for her lawsuit against Google claiming alleged election interference.

Following the first Democratic primary debate on June 26, many people searched her name, but “without any explanation, Google suspended Tulsi’s Google Ads account,” her office said in a statement, according to The Verge.

Tulsi claims the tech giant suspended her campaign’s Google Ads account just after that first debate.

Congress must act to prevent the tech giant from exerting too much influence, she claimed Monday on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
In her words: “This is really about the unchecked power these big tech monopolies have over our public discourse and how this is a real threat to our freedom of speech and to our fair elections.”


Democratic Debate Turns Ferocious Over Health Care

Candidates in the first night of this week’s Democratic presidential debates sparred over health care coverage.

It took only one question — the very first — in Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential primary debate to make it clear that the issue that united the party in last year’s congressional elections in many ways now divides it.

When Jake Tapper of CNN asked Senator Bernie Sanders whether his Medicare for All health care plan was “bad policy” and “political suicide,” it set off a half-hour brawl that drew in almost every one of the 10 candidates on the stage. Suddenly, members of the party that had been all about protecting and expanding health care coverage were leveling accusations before a national audience at some of their own — in particular, that they wanted to take it away.

“It used to be Republicans that wanted to repeal and replace,” Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana said in one of the more jolting statements on the subject. “Now many Democrats do as well.”

Those disagreements set a combative tone that continued for the next 90 minutes. The health care arguments underscored the powerful shift the Democratic Party is undergoing, and that was illustrated in a substantive debate that also included trade, race, reparations, border security and the war in Afghanistan.

In the end, it was a battle between aspiration and pragmatism, a crystallization of the struggle between the party’s left and moderate factions.

It is likely to repeat itself during Wednesday night’s debate, whose lineup includes former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Kamala Harris of California. He supports building on the Affordable Care Act by adding an option to buy into a public health plan. She released a proposal this week that would go further, eventually having everyone choose either Medicare or private plans that she said would be tightly regulated by the government.

Democrats know all too well that the issue of choice in health care is a potent one. When President Barack Obama’s promise that people who liked their health plans could keep them under the Affordable Care Act proved to be untrue, Republicans seized on the fallout so effectively that it then propelled them to majorities in both the House and Senate.

On Tuesday night, Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio evoked those Republican attacks of years ago on the Affordable Care Act, saying the Sanders plan “will tell the union members that give away wages in order to get good health care that they will lose their health care because Washington is going to come in and tell them they have a better plan.”

Republicans watching the debate may well have been smiling; the infighting about taking away people’s ability to choose their health care plan and spending too much on a pipe-dream plan played into some of President Trump’s favorite talking points. Mr. Trump is focusing on health proposals that do not involve coverage — lowering drug prices, for example — as his administration sides with the plaintiffs in a court case seeking to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act, putting millions of people’s coverage at risk.

It was easy to imagine House Democrats who campaigned on health care, helping their party retake control of the chamber, being aghast at the fact that not a single candidate mentioned the case.

Mr. Sanders’s plan would eliminate private health care coverage and set up a universal government-run health system that would provide free coverage for everyone, financed by taxes, including on the middle class. John Delaney, the former congressman from Maryland, repeatedly took swings at the Sanders plan, suggesting that it was reckless and too radical for the majority of voters and could deliver a second term to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Sanders held firm, looking ready to boil over at time — “I wrote the damn bill,” he fumed after Mr. Ryan questioned whether benefits in his plan would prove as comprehensive as he was promising. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the only other candidate in favor of a complete overhaul of the health insurance system that would include getting rid of private coverage, chimed in to back him up.

At one point she seemed to almost plead. “We are not about trying to take away health care from anyone,” she interjected. “That’s what the Republicans are trying to do.”

Mr. Delaney has been making a signature issue of his opposition to Medicare for all, instead holding up his own plan, which would automatically enroll every American under 65 in a new public health care plan or let them choose to receive a credit to buy private insurance instead. He repeatedly disparaged what he called “impossible promises.”

He was one of a number of candidates — including Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from Texas; Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. — who sought to stake out a middle ground by portraying themselves as defenders of free choice with plans that would allow, but not force, people to join Medicare or a new government health plan, or public option. (Some candidates would require people to pay into those plans, while others would not.)

The debate moderators also pressed Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren on whether the middle class would have to help pay for a Sanders-style plan, which would provide a generous set of benefits — beyond what Medicare covers — to every American without charging them premiums or deductibles. One of the revenue options Mr. Sanders has suggested is a 4 percent tax on the income of families earning more than $29,000.

In defending his plan, Mr. Sanders repeatedly pointed out how many Americans are uninsured or underinsured, unable to pay high deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs and thus unable to seek care.

Analysts often point out that the focus on raising taxes to pay for universal health care leaves out the fact that in exchange, personal health care costs would drop or disappear.

“A health reform plan might involve tax increases, but it’s important to quantify the savings in out-of-pocket health costs as well,” Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, tweeted during the debate. “Political attacks don’t play by the same rules.”

A Kaiser poll released Tuesday found that two-thirds of the public supports a public option, though most Republicans oppose it. The poll also found about half the public supports a Medicare for all plan, down from 56 percent in April. The vast majority of respondents with employer coverage — which more than 150 million Americans have — rated it as excellent or good.

In truth, Mr. Delaney’s own universal health care plan could also face political obstacles, not least because it, too, would cost a lot. He has proposed paying for it by, among other steps, letting the government negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and requiring wealthy Americans to cover part of the cost of their health care.

Had Mr. Sanders not responded so forcefully to the attacks, it would have felt like piling on, though some who criticized his goals sounded more earnest than harsh.

“I think how we win an election is to bring everyone with us,” Ms. Klobuchar said, adding later in the debate that a public option would be “the easiest way to move forward quickly, and I want to get things done.”