N.H. delegation not backing Sanders’s health plan

  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington in August. AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 4/10/2019 5:47:05 PM

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled a new proposal for “Medicare for All” on Wednesday, kicking off debate on a policy that’s galvanized parts of the Democratic base and served as a litmus test for 2020 presidential candidates.

“It is not a radical idea to say that in the United States, every American who goes to a doctor should be able to afford the prescription drug he or she needs,” Sanders said. “Health care is a human right, not a privilege.”

But even as four of Sanders’s presidential competitors in the Senate vowed to support the new plan, top New Hampshire Democrats were less enthusiastic. None of New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators and two representatives supports the proposed law, and one – Sen. Jeanne Shaheen – appeared to reverse her previous support of the plan Wednesday.

In September 2017, Shaheen was one of 16 Democratic co-sponsors to Sanders’s earlier version of the Medicare for All bill, which would turn the U.S. government into a “single-payer” for health coverage.

“I support the Medicare For All Act because I believe that healthcare should be a fundamental right in this country,” Shaheen said then, while acknowledging that the bill had little hope of passage in a Republican-controlled Congress.

On Wednesday, 18 months ahead of an expected tough fight for re-election, Shaheen said while Sanders’s proposal “helped re-ignite an urgently needed debate about reaching universal health care coverage,” she would not be sponsoring the legislation.

“In the near term, there are faster ways to reach universal coverage by building on the progress we’ve made through the Affordable Care Act, while addressing the high cost of care and medications,” Shaheen said in a statement. A spokeswoman, Sarah Weinstein, did not clarify whether Shaheen would vote for the bill if it came before the floor.

The position change brought Shaheen in line with Sen. Maggie Hassan and Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas, none of whom have supported Medicare for All in the past. And it underscored a wide divide between some of the presidential candidates competing for Granite Staters’ votes and the state’s elected federal representatives.

Under Medicare for All, Americans would no longer pay premiums or face insurance deductibles as the government-run system replaced private health insurance offered through employers, the mainstay of coverage for more than 160 million Americans.

Big tax increases would be needed and the transition is likely to be complicated, dismantling the private health insurance industry and making major changes for hospitals, doctors, drug companies and other medical providers.

So far, 13 Democratic presidential candidates support some version of Medicare for All while five have pushed for other options, according to a tally by the Washington Post. The state’s federal delegation, meanwhile, has resisted the pressure in favor of less-disruptive proposals.

Shaheen has sponsored separate bills to create a “public option” run by the government to compete alongside private plans, and to lower Medicare eligibility to 50. Kuster has long advocated for that latter option in the House. Pappas declined to endorse Medicare for All when pressed during his election campaign last year, while Hassan has focused on lowering drug prices.

How the national rush to associate with Sanders’s transformative vision plays out among Granite State voters remains to be seen. But Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, said the difference in approach from presidential and Congressional candidates in New Hampshire is not surprising.

“Those two groups of politicians have two different electorates to win. New Hampshire incumbent Democrats are thinking about the general election electorate in 2020,” he said.

Presidential candidates, meanwhile, are willing to take the chance that early support for Medicare for All won’t haunt them in a general election that will likely center on the popularity of Donald Trump, Scala added.

“But first thing’s first: they have to win the primary,” he said.

Material for the Associated Press was used in this report.

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