ICYMI: Elizabeth Warren is all-in on ending private health insurance

It’s late but I wanted to make sure everyone’s seen this, as chances are good that it’s the only soundbite from last night’s debate that’ll matter between now and Election Day 2020.

How many Democratic voters watching the debate got their first hard reality check about what “Medicare for All” really means from this Warren answer? Remember, misconceptions about the proposal are broad, with Democrats more ignorant about the truth than Republicans:

More than two-thirds of Dems are under the impression that “Medicare for All” is optional, that they’ll be able to choose between the new government program and the insurance they currently enjoy at work. That is … not the case. How do they think this fictional “optional” Medicare for All would be funded? They can’t possibly believe they’ll be exempt from the new federal taxes passed to pay for it if they choose to stick with employer-provided insurance.

Private insurance is going bye-bye under the Bernie-Warren plan. If you don’t like your new Medicare coverage or find the taxes simply too onerous, your “option” is expatriation.

How politically dangerous was this answer for her? Pretttttty dangerous, notes Philip Klein:

There are nearly 180 million people with private coverage they purchased on their own or through their employers, and every one of them would lose their plans under the one Warren just endorsed.

Thus, this is an incredibly risky strategy that may prove myopically tailored to her primary battle with Sanders. The truth is people with private coverage are overwhelmingly satisfied with their healthcare, and support for the vague concept of “Medicare for all” turns into significant opposition once people are told it would eliminate private insurance.

David Frum took a bigger-picture view of her answer and also sees risk. Dems like Warren and Sanders are proposing fantastically ambitious changes to how American households afford daily life. But is that really what Americans want right now?

It’s not just righties who think this was a major mistake. Various liberal commentators watched her deliver this answer and took to Twitter to wonder how a plan to flush private insurance down the toilet would play in the general election, when Warren’s target audience suddenly expands beyond Daily Kos readers.

I think she probably made the right strategic decision to back the plan full-throatedly given the two bad choices available to her, going all-in or hedging. Until now she’d been cagey, supporting Medicare for All but mumbling occasionally that maybe private insurance would have a (temporary) role. She knew, though, that the debates would force her to choose. If she continued to hedge or backed away entirely from MFA, progressives would slaughter her. The momentum she’s been enjoying in the polls thanks to lefties leaving Sanders’s orbit and entering hers would evaporate. That might be a price worth paying if Biden’s numbers had also faltered recently, putting the center in play, but Biden’s polling has been durable. Bernie’s has not. Warren decided, it seems, that the first step to the nomination is winning the progressive mini-primary by continuing to take votes from Sanders, and that starts with not being seen as wobbly on the left’s big health-care initiative.

As for what happens if she advances to a final-two showdown with Biden next year or to the general election against Trump, that’s a problem for another day. Maybe she’ll go back to hedging. Or maybe she’ll gamble that a utopian plan like MFA won’t be a major liability when contrasted with the fact that Republicans don’t have a plan at all. For now, though, all she needs to do is continue building her buzz on the left. Even if that comes at great risk to her standing as a potential “compromise” candidate between the left and the center-left majority.