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Democratic Candidate: 'Public Option' Plan Will Kill Private Health Insurance

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The second night of 2020 Democratic presidential contender debates confirmed the news from the first night of debates: Few of the candidates support banning private health insurance — but one candidate thinks offering a government-run, Medicare-style, “public option” plan would be a great way to have consumers eliminate private health insurance.

Just two of the 10 candidates on the stage in Miami on Thursday — Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. — rose their hands when asked whether they supported a universal, government-run, single-payer health care finance system that would outlaw private health insurance.

Views on a Legal Health Insurance Ban

The moderators of the first round of debates, held Wednesday, asked a similar question. The two candidates who said Wednesday that they support abolishing private health insurance were  New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

(Related: Just 2 in First Democratic Presidential Debate Back Single-Payer Health Care)

Those statistics mean that about 20% of the top 20 Democratic presidential contenders support banning private health insurance.

The results suggest that the views of the 20 top Democratic presidential contenders might be similar to the views of voters in states that tend to put Democrats in statewide offices.

In November 2016, when Colorado held a referendum on the idea of the state creating a universal, government-run health care finance program, that ballot measure lost by a vote of about 20% for to 80% against.

Health policy specialists note that the current, high-profile “Medicare for All” proposals are much different the current Medicare program. The current, traditional Medicare program includes many deductible, co-payment and coinsurance requirements, and related programs, such as the Medicare Advantage program, offer coverage administered by private companies.

Sanders’ single-payer proposal and similar proposals call for eliminating the current Medicare program and replacing it with a program with no cost-sharing requirements.

Public Option

All of the candidates who talked about the public option plan concept said they support the idea of offering consumers access to a government-run public option plan that would be similar to Medicare.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., supports Sanders’ current Medicare for All bill, and she said she wrote the transitional period section in the bill.

(Related: 7 Ideas From Bernie Sanders’ Transitional Health Insurance Proposal)

Gillibrand said she believes that offering a public option plan would be a good way to give consumers the power to move the United States toward a single-payer health care system, without Congress having to ban the sale of private health insurance.

“I believe we need to get to universal health care as a right and not a privilege,” Gillibrand said. “The quickest way you get there is you create competition with the insurers. God bless the insurers, if they want to compete, they can certainly try, but they’ve never put people over their profits, and I doubt they ever will. So what will happen is people will choose Medicare, you will transition, we will get to Medicare for All. Then your step to single-payer is so short.”

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said that he favors a “Medicare for All who want it” system. He noted that private-sector health care organizations continue to exist in countries like England that have socialized medicine.

“That’s fine,” Buttigieg said. “It’s just that, for our primary care, we can’t be relying on the tender mercies of the corporate system.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden said that he wants everyone to have the ability to buy a Medicare-like plan, but that he opposes any efforts, including efforts by Democrats, to take down the current Obamacare framework.

— Read Voters Choose Insurance Commissioners, on ThinkAdvisor.

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