Elizabeth Warren Supports Medicare For All, But Some Say She'll Compromise Warren supports mandatory "Medicare for All" that would eliminate private insurance. But there's a perception among some supporters that she's willing to compromise on the issue.

Elizabeth Warren's Ambiguity On Health Care Comes With Some Side Effects

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Some Democrats are waiting to learn what health care plan Elizabeth Warren really favors. The presidential candidate endorsed "Medicare for All," the plan of her rival, Bernie Sanders. Yet some of her critics doubt she means it, and some supporters see signs that she's open to alternatives. NPR's Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Elizabeth Warren's plans are her brand. Her campaign sells T-shirts proclaiming, Warren has a plan for that. But you can't say that about health care.


ELIZABETH WARREN: Medicare for All is the cheapest possible way to provide health care coverage for everyone.

KHALID: Warren has been pressed on how she'll pay for it, and she has sidestepped that question for months. Last week, Warren told voters at a town hall in Iowa that she would soon be putting out a plan that explains how she intends to pay for Medicare for All.


WARREN: It's still got a little bit more work before it's ready to roll out.

KHALID: And then she reiterated a point she's made before.


WARREN: I will not sign a bill into law that does not reduce the cost of health care for middle-class families. That's what matters to them, and that's what matters to me.


CHRIS JENNINGS: This is the one area where her lack of directness stands in contrast with all her other policy visions and message approaches.

KHALID: Chris Jennings was a senior health care adviser to President Barack Obama.

JENNINGS: To me, that inconsistency is hurting more than even the policy itself.

KHALID: In other words, being vague could undermine her brand. More than a decade ago, Warren supported universal single-payer health care, but she also seemed to recognize that it might not be politically acceptable. Earlier in the campaign cycle, she referred to Medicare for All as a framework and acknowledged that she could see a role for private insurance. But on the debate stage, she has tethered herself to Bernie Sanders' vision.

Still, some voters and old colleagues don't think Warren is as resolute on health care as Sanders. The frequency with which people bring up that perception is noteworthy. I met Donna Mombourquette last month at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention as she grabbed some popcorn between candidate speeches. She told me she would not support Bernie Sanders.

DONNA MOMBOURQUETTE: I believe we need to improve Obamacare, have a public option. I think that's the better way to go.

KHALID: But in the next breath, she told me Elizabeth Warren was one of her top choices.

MOMBOURQUETTE: I think that she's probably going to be more open to moderating her positions to bring in more voters.

KHALID: Mombourquette recently endorsed Pete Buttigieg - the mayor of South Bend, Ind. - but she told me she still likes Warren also. There is a sense among some people who like Warren, though, that her support for Medicare for All is kind of out of character.

TOM MCGARITY: Well, I was a little surprised recently that she came out in favor of Medicare for All, which I think is going to be a really expensive proposition.

KHALID: Tom McGarity is a fan of Warren's. He taught with her at The University of Texas law school in the early 1980s.

MCGARITY: It's not well-defined. And one thing about Liz is - at least politically, is she's - usually, before she comes out with something, she wants to see - she defines it better.

KHALID: The Warren campaign has not responded to questions about whether she could eventually compromise on this issue. Other candidates in this race support a public option, a government-run insurance plan that would be an optional alternative to private insurance, and polling shows that is more popular than a mandatory Medicare for All system that would eliminate private insurance.

It is not uncommon to meet die-hard Warren supporters who are lukewarm about Medicare for All. Kimberly Winick is a huge Warren supporter who also worked as Warren's research assistant for a couple of years during law school. Winick says she's not sure that Medicare for All is the right answer.

KIMBERLY WINICK: And so the real question isn't whether you support every plank of the platform, but whether you think the person who is standing at the top there is somebody whom you can trust.

KHALID: And Winick says she trusts Warren. She feels she's pragmatic.

WINICK: I also know that down the road, if it becomes implausible, impractical, impossible to do those things, she'll consider alternatives.

KHALID: But pragmatism is not what Warren has been selling on the campaign trail; she talks about dreaming big. It's not clear how much wiggle room, if any, Warren has on Medicare for All, but health care consultant Chris Jennings thinks she has a bit.

JENNINGS: Her fan base will give her more credit for trying to go as far as she possibly can.

KHALID: And then, if she has to trim it back, Jennings says he thinks she'll have more room for compromise than some other candidates.

JENNINGS: She's viewed as a fighter and that she won't compromise just to compromise; she'll compromise to get something done.

KHALID: The big question is whether the woman who claims to have a plan for almost anything has a plan that can satisfy her critics.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

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