Democrats Open Fire On Warren’s ‘Medicare For All’ Plan

Elizabeth Warren's fellow Democrats aren't so thrilled with her 'Medidare For All' plan.

As I noted earlier, late last week Senator and Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren released a ‘Medicare For All’ plan that would cost at least $20.5 trillion and purport to finance itself almost exclusively via taxes on the so-called wealthy. Almost immediately after it was released, though, it came under criticism from Warren’s fellow candidates and other Democrats many of whom are expressing concern that it could end up hurting the party nationally if she becomes the nominee:

The most-vulnerable Democrat in Colorado’s state House, Bri Buentello, is dreading door-knocking in her rural district now that Elizabeth Warren dropped her massive “Medicare for All” plan into the presidential arena.

“This is going to cause down-ballot damage in swing districts and states if she’s the nominee,” Buentello says, describing how her Pueblo-area constituents — who voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016 — were already echoing criticisms about a giant, one-size-fits-all big government run plan that cancels private health insurance and raises taxes.

The fear of blowback is indicative of the broad and largely negative response to Warren’s proposal from centrist, moderate and rural Democrats — many of whom, like Buentello, back Joe Biden in the primary. And it exposes the fault line between those who fret about winning voters in the center and the activist progressive base propelling Warren to the front of the Democratic pack.

The long-awaited plan to raise the $20.5 trillion she says is needed to pay for single-payer health care in America is Warren’s attempt to answer critics after weeks of questions from rival candidates about the cost of her proposal and the prospect of higher taxes. Warren promised, as she has in the past, that “not one penny in middle-class tax increases” is necessary to finance the effort.

Surveys show Medicare for All polls well with Democrats and has majority support overall. But leading politicians in the party believe the popularity won’t last.

In swing-state Ohio, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, a liberal populist, has previously referred to Medicare for All as a “terrible mistake.” The influential culinary workers union in Nevada has also expressed misgivings. And the best-known Democrat from the blue state stronghold of California, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also let it be known Friday that she’s not on board.

“I’m not a big fan of Medicare for All,” Pelosi told Bloomberg TV. “I welcome the debate. I think that we should have health care for all. I think the affordable care benefit is better than the Medicare benefit.”

Throughout the presidential primary season, Medicare for All has been debated repeatedly by Democrats on stages where Warren has largely ducked specifics and the issue of tax increases.

What’s different now is that Warren is emerging as the frontrunner — and centrists and pragmatists in her party are starting to hit the panic button as Warren’s plan seems tailor-made to make enemies of doctors, hospitals, the insurance industry and some employers.

“Warren and the progressives are causing a real political problem for pro-growth, pro-business Democrats,” warned Scott Reed, a top consultant for the conservative-leaning Chamber of Commerce.


Veterans of past political campaigns, remembering the beating their party took over Obamacare — which has finally become popular after Republicans attempted to repeal much of it — fear that Medicare for All raises too many questions, picks too many fights with special interests and won’t garner support where it counts the most in a presidential election: swing districts in the swing states needed to clinch the Electoral College.

“The fundamental challenge Senator Warren has in selling her plans across the country is that Medicare for All, while popular in largely urban coastal areas, does not share the same appeal in the middle of the country, particularly in the areas where people largely have health insurance and are mostly satisfied,” said Bill Burton, a former spokesman for President Obama’s campaign and the founder of a super PAC that supported his reelection, who also briefly worked for billionaire Howard Schultz’s brief 2020 presidential campaign.

“When you look at the counties that President Obama and President Trump won, you see rates of health insurance in the 90-95% range, so she’s potentially solving a problem that many of these voters may not share these views on,” Burton said.

Burton has company among Obama alums many of whom remember how Republicans weaponized Obamacare in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Without Obama on the ticket defending his namesake healthcare plan, it was largely a millstone around the necks of Democrats.

“It played out with the Clinton health plan. It played out with the Affordable Care Act. Frankly, going all the way back to President Truman, it is consistently the case that health reforms are always popular at first, when they’re more like bumper sticker slogans,” said Larry Levitt, the senior vice president for health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “As details get filled in and opponents really start to attack, plans never get more popular.”

The plan also came under attack from several of Warren’s fellow candidates for the Democratic nomination. Senator Bernie Sanders, who has proposed his own health care plan that is basically also “Medicare For All,” drew sharp contrasts between his plan and Warren’s”:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has called his “Medicare for All” plan “far more progressive” than the plan Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren released last week.

“The function of health care is to provide health care to all people, not to make $100 billion in profits for the insurance companies and the drug companies. So, Elizabeth Warren and I agree on that. We do disagree on how you fund it. I think the approach that (I) have, in fact, will be much more progressive in terms of protecting the financial well being of middle income families,” Sanders told ABC News

Sanders told the news outlet that his plan would raise taxes on the middle class, but that it would lower health care costs. Warren has said her plan would not increase taxes on the middle class. 

Sanders said he believes Warren’s plan might have a “very negative impact” on job creation because of funds it could take from employers, called an “employer Medicare contribution.”

“I think that that would probably have a very negative impact on creating those jobs, or providing wages, increased wages and benefits for those workers,” Sanders told ABC. “So I think we have a better way, which is a 7.5% payroll tax, which is far more I think progressive, because it’ll not impact employers of low wage workers but hit significantly employers of upper income people.”

Warren defended her plan, saying that employers would pay “a little bit less” than they pay under Obamacare.  

“All I can say is that employers will pay the same as they’re paying currently under Obamacare. In fact, they pay a little bit less. We stabilize it at 98% of what they’re paying right now and they won’t have to have HR departments that are wrestling with insurance companies. So this is something that’s going to help employers,” she told reporters, according to ABC.

After she was asked whether she thought her plan was more progressive than Sanders’s plan, Warren said,”I think it’s progressive when not a single person who makes less than a billion dollars has to pay one penny in additional taxes.”

“That’s going to be an enormous benefit for middle class families, for working families, for the working poor. Think what that’s going to mean to them,” the Massachusetts Democrat added. “And think what it’s going to mean for small businesses. For these little tiny businesses that right now can’t afford to offer medical care for their employees, and that means they’re at a competitive disadvantage. Because it’s hard to attract people if you don’t offer health care. Think what it means for all the people who’ve wanted to start their own businesses but they’re afraid to walk away from their health insurance. They’re afraid they won’t be able to afford it on their own.”

Another one of Warren’s rivals, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, said that the plan was flawed because it contained “a multi-trillion-dollar hole”:

CONCORD, N.H. – South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg took aim at Democratic presidential campaign rival Sen.  Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. over her “Medicare-for-all” plan on Wednesday, after becoming the first major candidate to file for the ballot in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

Buttigieg, who grabbed headlines at this month’s presidential debate for challenging Warren over how she’ll pay for her plan to implement a single-payer health care system, expanded on those concerns Wednesday.

“I certainly think we all have a responsibility to explain how our plans are going to be paid for, and my concern about the plan she’s putting forward is not just the multi-trillion-dollar hole but also the fact that most Americans would prefer not to be told that they have to abandon their private plan,” Buttigieg said in an interview with Fox News and New Hampshire’s Concord Monitor newspaper.

“I want to create this public plan and then if it’s the right plan for everybody, everybody will want it,” Buttigieg added. “If it’s not the right plan for some people, then some people will keep what they’ve got. I think that’s the best policy. It’s definitely what most voters, including what most Democratic voters, believe. And I believe those voters are not wrong.”

Warren supports 2020 rival Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-all plan. Sanders has repeatedly acknowledged that taxes for most Americans would rise to pay for the program but has claimed that most people would save money in the long run due to the elimination of premiums, co-payments and deductibles. Yet at this month’s debate, Warren wouldn’t say if middle-class taxes would rise to pay for her Medicare-for-all system and pledged to unveil her plan for paying for it soon.


Speaking with reporters Wednesday after filing at the New Hampshire State House, Buttigieg painted clear contrasts between himself and Warren and Sanders, the two populist standard-bearers in the large field of Democratic White House hopefuls.

“If as a voter you’ve decided you want the most ideologically left candidate possible, then of course you’ve already got your choice,” he said, taking an indirect jab at both Warren and Sanders. “But I think a lot of others are looking for real progressive solutions that can be achieved and that can command the support of a strong American majority. I think that’s where most Democratic voters are.”

And he vowed that if he won the White House, “I would be the most progressive president in my lifetime but I also would build out majorities to do these things in a way that can actually unify rather than further polarize the American people.”

Finally, former Vice-President Joe Biden renewed his previous attacks on Warren’s plan:

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign hit Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) over her new “Medicare for All” plan on Friday, saying it really would result in a middle-class tax increase despite Warren’s claims. 

“For months, Elizabeth Warren has refused to say if her health care plan would raise taxes on the middle class, and now we know why: because it does,” said Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield. “Senator Warren would place a new tax of nearly $9 trillion that will fall on American workers.”

Warren on Friday released a plan for how to pay for Medicare for All that would not include any direct tax increases on the middle class. Warren has been under pressure from rivals including Biden to explain how she would cover the large cost of her plan. Medicare for All has been one of the major dividing lines between progressives such as Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and more moderate candidates like Biden and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. 

Biden kept up the criticism on Friday, saying that a new roughly $9 trillion tax on employers in Warren’s plan would be passed on to workers. 

Warren’s plan argues that tax is just matching what employers are already paying for their workers’ health insurance in the form of premiums, and that it would actually slightly reduce employers’ costs. Economists also say that workers face lower wages under the current system because of the costs employers have to pour into health insurance instead. 

More broadly, Biden’s campaign called Warren’s plan unrealistic, and noted that it would eliminate people’s current private health insurance. 

“There’s no two ways about it, we cannot defeat Donald Trump with double talk on health care — especially not about the impact and cost of a proposal to completely dismantle our health care system and eliminate employer-sponsored and all other private health insurance,” Bedingfield said. 

It isn’t surprising that Warren’s fellow candidates would attack her and her plan. That’s all part of running in a competitive primary, and, as I noted this morning, there is plenty there to criticize. What is somewhat surprising, I suppose, is the extent to which Democrats outside of the race for President are willing to call the plan out. The reason for that, of course, is because they are concerned that there are aspects to the plan that could end up hurting the party in November 2020 even if she does not turn out to be the nominee. These attacks and criticisms are likely to come up as we get further down the campaign trail. They are also likely to be used as ammunition by Republicans regardless of whether or not Warren becomes the nominee.

The criticism is also unsurprising given the fact that Warren is now widely seen as a co-frontrunner for the nomination. Before now, she was able to get away with putting largely utopian plans forward without having to worry about having hem scrutinized. That’s not going to be the case anymore, and whether or not Warren can move forward is largely going to depend on whether or not she can defend those plans.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2020, Elizabeth Warren, Health Care, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. de stijl says:

    Doubling down does not make your hand better.

  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This is a mistake. She’s too far left on this. She will cede the center to Trump and hand him the election.
    Obamacare was centrist…Conservative. It worked within the existing system to effect reforms.
    M4A may be the ultimate goal…but it’s way too far off to even discuss.
    We should be talking about how to undo the damage to Obamacare that trump has wrought, and how to make it better.
    This pie-in-the-sky stuff gives me a sense of dread…4 more years of Trump.

  3. Kit says:

    We are the can’t-do generation, and we need to accept it. The rest of the world does it better and cheaper? Sorry, but we just can’t afford to save money. It all has something to do with the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, and lots of big, scary numbers. Pay no attention to the vast profits or the broken lives.

  4. EddieInCA says:

    Just a snapshot in time:

    I’ve said it before. I don’t believe Warren can beat Trump. I will donate money to her, and I will work the phones for her, and I will canvass for her, if she’s the nominee. But I think she will lose.

  5. Terrye Cravens says:

    It is a ridiculous plan. It will never pass Congress, no matter which party controls it. There are better ways to achieve the same goal of universal coverage. Democrats have a big advantage on health care and immigration. And it seems they are working hard to throw those advantages away. Medicare for all is like Trump’s wall. A boondoggle.

  6. Terrye Cravens says:

    @Kit: No country in the world does what Warren and Sanders are talking about. Germany has a hybrid system of private and public. Switzerland’s system is closer to the ACA than it is to Medicare for all. Great Britain may have a national health service, but it does not cover everything for everyone. European countries still have private pay…many of them have insurance. No country pays for everything from dental to vision to cancer treatment with no copays or premiums and no huge taxes for average people. The problem is not that we are a “can’t do generation”, the problem is the supporters of Warren’s plan and Sanders plan have refused to acknowledge the true costs and scope of what they are proposing.

    When Warren says she will save trillions by cutting administrative costs I laugh. That is crazy.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    There’s disagreement over whether Ds did well in the 2018 midterms because of disgust with Trump or healthcare. Both still work. Once we have a nominee said nominee can tack to the center, trim their sails, insert metaphor of choice. And said nominee will be called a socialist even if were Bloomberg. Trump will take care of the disgust. The D has to run on healthcare. Let’s not nit pick it to death years before legislation emerges.

  8. Kit says:

    @Terrye Cravens:

    No country pays for everything from dental to vision to cancer treatment with no copays or premiums and no huge taxes for average people.

    So what’s the lesson? That these other countries are really paying as much if not more (i.e. at the end of the day there are no savings)? Or that people in these countries don’t enjoy decent healthcare (i.e. you get what you pay for)? Or simply that we need to pare back Warren’s initial gold-plated proposal in order to enjoy better care for less money?

    The problem is not that we are a “can’t do generation”, the problem is the supporters of Warren’s plan and Sanders plan have refused to acknowledge the true costs and scope of what they are proposing.

    Oh yeah, that must be the root cause of the problems with our system. Whatever was I thinking?

  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    At the prior post on Warren’s plan, I posted links to analysis of European plans done by the Commonwealth fund. The links are here

    Most of us have no idea what the options are and how other countries manage to provide universal coverage and what universal coverage means or what it should include.

    The truth is, as others have said, the Warren/Bernie MFA is pie-in-the-sky. If Warren makes MFA a key component of her platform, she will lose. Unfortunately she may already given her opponents enough to drive a fork through her back. Hopefully it will be a Dem who does it and not Trump next November.

  10. gVOR08 says:
  11. Gustopher says:

    I really wish she had just said we’re going to have Canadian style healthcare, and that Canada is going to pay for it.

    It’s simple, it’s straightforward, and it fits on a bumper sticker.

  12. Nickel Front says:

    The fundamental challenge Senator Warren has in selling her plans across the country is that Medicare for All, while popular in largely urban coastal areas, does not share the same appeal in the middle of the country


    There’s one more reason to abolish the Electoral College. Those stupid rubes in fly over country need to just accept that Warren is smarter than all of them and has a great plan.

    If not for them she could implement her plan and we’d finally have affordable, universal health care for all.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Nickel Front:
    Yeah, them country folks is much smarter than city folks:

    Life expectancy was inversely related to levels of rurality. In 2005-2009, those in large metropolitan areas had a life expectancy of 79.1 years, compared with 76.9 years in small urban towns and 76.7 years in rural areas. When stratified by gender, race, and income, life expectancy ranged from 67.7 years among poor black men in nonmetropolitan areas to 89.6 among poor Asian/Pacific Islander women in metropolitan areas. Rural-urban disparities widened over time. In 1969-1971, life expectancy was 0.4 years longer in metropolitan than in nonmetropolitan areas (70.9 vs 70.5 years). By 2005-2009, the life expectancy difference had increased to 2.0 years (78.8 vs 76.8 years). The rural poor and rural blacks currently experience survival probabilities that urban rich and urban whites enjoyed 4 decades earlier. Causes of death contributing most to the increasing rural-urban disparity and lower life expectancy in rural areas include heart disease, unintentional injuries, COPD, lung cancer, stroke, suicide, and diabetes.

    Between 1969 and 2009, residents in metropolitan areas experienced larger gains in life expectancy than those in nonmetropolitan areas, contributing to the widening gap.

    And that’s before all those wise hillbillies started killing themselves with fentanyl.

    You know why these people live in flyover country? Because they lacked the talent or the courage to GTFO. Now they sit in their empty towns furious at the city folks whose taxes keep them alive.

  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Nickel Front:

    Those stupid rubes in fly over country…

    …have been voting against their best interests for decades.
    Just ask the farmers how much Trump has cost them in the last couple years.
    The number of farm bankruptcies is exploding.
    But keep up your snarky comments…you prove your ignorance with each and every one.

  15. Gustopher says:

    @Nickel Front:

    There’s one more reason to abolish the Electoral College.

    You are right.

    The disproportionate vote of the backwards people in empty spaces is holding the majority of America back.

  16. Jen says:

    Meanwhile…there’s recent polling that shows Trump still doing quite well in key battleground states.

    It needs to be said, again: this clown in office needs to be sent packing, and whomever can do it needs to be the nominee. A circular firing squad isn’t going to cut it this time.

  17. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Kit: No, more like “cant add” generation.

  18. Jim Brown 32 says:

    The issues of the day are Immigration, Trade, Manufacturing, Taxes, and Corporate consolidation of any profit making enterprise in this country.

    Democrats have deluded themselves into thinking it’s the issue Du Jour. And it was–11 years ago when Obama ran on it.

    Trump has all the valuable issue real estate. Democrats have a nice 2 story SFH…that’s a 2 hour commute from downtown. Health care should be the 4th thing spoken of. How are Democrats communicating how they plan to enable people to make money? What can Democrats do to create an environment where there are 6 home improvement chains in my town instead of 2?

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Nickel Front: Wow. That was… just pervasively ordinary and pedestrian. I’m underwhelmed.

    Up your game a notch or 5.

  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jim Brown 32:
    Well, the problem is that there is not a lot government can do to ensure that everyone’s going to make money. We can fantasize, but in reality? What have you got in mind?

  21. Pylon says:

    @Jim Brown 32: IMO personal financial issues are at the top of most voters minds, and that includes health care. Where jobs are a concern, so is health care, because that’s where you get your coverage presently. Someone says that I won’t go broke if I get sick when I’m unemployed or underemployed? They get my vote. If they say I will have more money in the bank at the end of the day? Even better.

    The immigration issue is done. Trump went after immigrants and the economy didn’t improve. Trade is done. He started trade wars and the economy didn’t improve. Taxes? No one’s taxes went down in any meaningful way, unless they were rich.

  22. Teve says:

    Emma Arnold

    Blue Cross denied one of my claims so I appealed. They denied the appeal saying I didn’t have a referral from my primary doc. I sent them back a copy of the referral and they just denied my 2nd appeal saying I already used up all my appeals.

    #MedicareForAll now plz

    1:08 PM · Nov 4, 2019·Twitter Web App

  23. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The govt can, and frankly should, ensure there is a negative incentive structure to a company growing beyond a certain size. Capitalism is not to meant to “efficienct”. When Home Depot and Lowes replaces the 3 local and 2 regional Hardware stores in a town…where do you think that money goes? It goes to people that don’t live in that town and dont give a rat’s ass about it. Crumbs stay for the local workers. The only way this could possibly happen is through favorable policy and incentives that encourage this type of Corporate centralization.

    Economic feudalism is an apt description of the current economic landscape…unless you get lucky you’re probably going to end up sharecropping for the real landowners. There are to few landowners…this was enabled by the best Congress money can buy over the past 30 years

  24. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Pylon: Are you serious? Immigration has been broken for 30 years. It might be done with Trump but this nation is still without a policy that responds to the realities of the 21st Century. We need a President that will put a foot in Congress’s ass to fix it.

    What Trump does or doesn’t do is irrelevant to whether a problem exists and resonates with People. Trump is a moron…of course nothing he does makes anything better. Trump tried to fix health care too….is that done?

    China needs to be confronted..they are not a good faith partner and are actively working against American Brands and interests in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. American can do better that exporting financial instruments and importing retail goods. That’s not a receipe for a large windows of opportunity for Americans.

    Your dismissiveness that these are not real issues is why Democrats have such a problem making inroads in Red regions. There are people that aren’t interested in hearing how the government can help them. They want to hear how the government is setting the playing field to allow them to compete and fend for themselves.

    The next logical step for government action before “big structural change” is to root out price gouging. Technology naturally lowers costs, and itself, goes down in cost over time…until we talk the medical industry.

    We pay more…not because of our system..but because we allow providers to charge any price they want. Its illegal to sell a $20 gallon of water after a hurricane. Yet, you can charge an emergency room patient $40 for an Aspirin. Imagine that.