Sanders knocks Harris on Medicare for All: 'I don't raise money from billionaires'

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer
Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Paras Griffin/WireImage via Getty Images, Alex Edelman /AFP/Getty Images)

When Sen. Kamala Harris, in her latest effort to define her position on health care insurance, told a big-dollar Hamptons fundraiser she still wasn’t “comfortable” with the Medicare for All plan she has endorsed, her rival Bernie Sanders was quick to fire back.

“I don't go to the Hamptons to raise money from billionaires,” Sanders, who is running on a single-payer Medicare for All platform, said in a tweet Monday afternoon. “If I ever visited there, I would tell them the same thing I have said for the last 30 years: We must pass a Medicare for All system to guarantee affordable health care for all, not just for those who can afford it.”

Harris tried to strike a nuanced position on the issue, although her reported remarks are hard to parse. “I think almost every member of the United States Senate who’s running for president and many others have signed on to a variety of plans in the Senate. And I have done the same,” Harris told the donors at the weekend event, according to remarks provided to the Daily Beast by her campaign. “All of them are good ideas, which is why I support them. And I support Medicare for All. But as you may have noticed, over the course of the many months, I’ve not been comfortable with Bernie’s plan, the Medicare for All plan.”

At the event — at the home of movie executive Jamie Patricof, where “Teslas and Maseratis lined the street” outside, as Bloomberg News reported — Harris emphasized that “I believe in capitalism,” an implied contrast to Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist.

Sanders’s single-payer plan would eliminate most private insurance in the country within four years, providing universal coverage via a government plan. Harris was the first senator to co-sponsor Sanders’s bill in 2017 and again signed on as a co-sponsor of modified Medicare for All legislation in April, issuing a press release still available on her Senate website.

“Health care should be a right for everyone in this country, not a privilege for the few. No family should be forced to go into debt to pay for the medical treatment of a loved one or the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy,” said Harris in the statement. “Medicare is the most popular health plan in the country because it works. Medicare for All finally makes sure every American has affordable, comprehensive health care.”

But she seemed to qualify that position at the Democratic candidates’ July debate, explaining that after talking to voters she wanted to create a program that would allow for private plans and that the four-year transition to Sanders’s plan was too quick.

At a CNN town hall in January, Harris said she felt “very strongly” about the Medicare for All program and that she would be willing to eliminate private insurance to implement it. The next day her campaign began to walk back those comments, as an adviser said she was open to more moderate programs but that Medicare for All was the plan she was running on.

“Medicare for All is the plan that she believes will solve the problem and get all Americans covered — period,” press secretary Ian Sams told CNN. “She has co-sponsored other pieces of legislation that she sees as a path to getting us there, but this is the plan she is running on.”

At the first Democratic debate in June, Harris raised her hand when asked if she would eliminate private insurance in favor of a government-run plan. Following the debate, Harris said that she had misheard the question and thought the moderator had asked if she was willing to personally use a government plan.

The Harris campaign introduced its own health care plan in July, which would offer government health insurance with a limit on out-of-pocket costs, phased in over 10 years, during which private insurance would still exist to compete with the government plan. Harris has touted the support of Kathleen Sebelius, former Obama administration Health and Human Services secretary, for her program, an endorsement complicated by Sebelius’s serving on the board of a company that sells Medicare Advantage plans, which could be expanded under the Harris proposal. Insurance companies have been accused of overcharging the government an estimated $30 billion over the past three years.