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Kamala Harris’ Health Insurance Gaffe

Harris doesn't want to eliminate all private health insurance. Just most of it.

Kamala Harris was widely considered to have been the big winner in last night’s Democratic debate but in the midst of the evening, she committed a gaffe that she was forced to walk back this morning. The radical Democratic candidate seems to realize that she went a little too far to the left when asked about abolishing private health insurance.

At one point in the evening, moderator Lester Holt of NBC News asked the 10 candidates to raise their hands if they would “abolish their private health insurance in favor of a government-run plan.” Only Harris and Bernie Sanders raised their hands.

In the light of day, the answer must not seem as good as it did in a room full of Democratic activists because the California senator qualified her position on private health insurance this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” On the show, Harris said that she misunderstood the question.

“Once and for all, do you believe that private insurance should be eliminated in this country?” co-host Willie Geist asked Harris.

“No,” Harris answered, adding, “But the question was, ‘Would you give up your private insurance for that option?’ And I said yes.”

“Oh, I think you heard it differently than others, then,” Geist said.

“Probably, because that’s what I heard,” Harris replied.

Harris then stated, “I am a proponent of ‘Medicare for All,” adding that she would not eliminate private health insurance but  that it “will exist for supplemental coverage.”

Later in the interview, Geist pressed Harris again, asking, “So, to boil it down, Medicare for All, available to everyone if they want it, but if they have private insurance, they keep it?”

“For supplemental. For supplemental coverage,” Harris said. “Otherwise, they’re in Medicare for All.”

In essence, it seems that Harris originally told the truth when she said that she supported abolishing private health insurance in exchange for Medicare for All. Even if her plan leaves private insurers intact for supplemental coverage, most Americans would lose their current health insurance, which was the gist of the question.

Harris’ position also leaves open the question of why Americans would need supplemental health insurance if Medicare for All is the be-all-end-all of health insurance and would include dental and vision coverage. Whatever the reason, under Harris’ plan, Americans would face both higher taxes for nationalized healthcare and premiums for a supplemental private plan. It doesn’t sound like a great deal.

Voters agree. While polling often shows support for single-payer plans such as Medicare for All, that support plummets when voters find out more details about the plan. Voters don’t like the idea that federal healthcare could increase wait times for care or that it would dramatically increase taxes.

Other polls cast doubt on the idea that voters are willing to blow up the healthcare system. Real Clear Politics found in May that less than a third of voters want a completely new system. A large majority, 68 percent, want to make improvements to the current system.

Even if voters are scared away from Kamala Harris by her threats to toss out the current health insurance system, healthcare does represent a weakness for Republicans. Healthcare is a top issue for voters and the GOP has been silent on the topic since its abortive attempt to repeal Obamacare in 2017. Since then Republicans have focused on tariffs and illegal immigration, issues where they are at odds with the majority of Americans.

Republicans of the Bush era failed to address Americans concerns about the high cost of healthcare. That failure led directly to the election of Barack Obama and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. It could be that history is repeating itself as the Republican failure to present a viable alternative to Obamacare may lead to the passage of an even more radical government takeover of the healthcare industry under the next president.

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