Kamala Harris continues to clarify her stance on Medicare for All

By Stephanie Ramirez

/ CBS News

Kamala Harris on Biden: "Just speaking truth"

Sen. Kamala Harris is laughing off critics who say that she's struggled to articulate a clear health care policy. When asked about the confusion surrounding her stance on the issue in an interview with CNN on Wednesday, the 2020 presidential candidate chuckled, saying, "There's a lot that you're building into this question that's not accurate."

But despite that assertion, Harris has had to clarify her stance on "Medicare for All" several times since the start of the year. Here's a rundown of what Harris has said about her support for expanding government-run healthcare and how she would pay for it.

January

Harris was first questioned on her healthcare stance during a CNN Town Hall appearance in late January. "I believe the solution, and I actually feel very strongly about this is, we need to have Medicare for All. That's just the bottom line," Harris said to applause at the event, which was broadcast live from Des Moines.

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CNN's Jake Tapper followed-up with a question. "I believe [Medicare for All] will totally eliminate private insurance," said Tapper. "So for people out there who like their insurance, they don't get to keep it?"

Harris responded, "Well listen, the idea is everyone gets access to medical care. And you don't have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through the paperwork, all of the delay that may require. Who of us have not had that situation where you've got to wait for approval and the doctor says, 'Well, I don't know if your insurance company's going to cover this?' Let's eliminate all of that, let's move on."

This sparked confusion as to whether Harris' version of Medicare for All would allow for any private insurance.

May

In May, Tapper revisited the subject with Harris in a lengthy sit-down interview that covered multiple topics. "I support Medicare for All but I really do need to clear-up what happened on that stage," said Harris. "It was in the context of saying, 'Let's get rid of all the bureaucracy, let's get all of the waste."

"Oh, not the insurance companies?" said Tapper.

"No, that's not what I meant," said Harris. "I know it was interpreted that way. If you watch the tape, I think you'll see that there are obviously many interpretations of what I said. What I meant is: let's get rid of bureaucracy."

But Harris also affirmed that she supports Sen. Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All bill, which she has co-sponsored in the Senate. Sanders' bill would eliminate almost all forms of private insurance, although it would allow for supplemental private insurance for cosmetic surgery. "So it doesn't get rid of all insurance," added Harris.

June

The next time Harris created confusion around her Medicare for All stance was on night two of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27th. Harris and Sanders were the only two candidates to raise their hand when MSNBC Moderator Lester Holt asked who was in favor of doing aways private health insurance in favor of a government-run option.

Starting with CBS News the following day, the California senator spent the morning explaining on network-after-network that she had misheard the question.

"So the question was, 'Would you be willing to give up your private insurance?'" said Harris.

"That's not how it was asked…that's what you heard, right?" said CBS News' Tony Dokoupil.

Harris again tried to clarify her stance. "I am supportive of Medicare for All," she said, "And under a Medicare for All policy, private insurance would certainly exist, and for supplemental coverage. But under Medicare for All, in my vision of it, we would actually extend benefits. So for example, vision care, dental care, hearing aids, which currently are not covered."

July

This past week, the senator continued to discuss her version of a Medicare for All plan. In an interview that aired Wednesday, Harris told CNN's Kyung Lah she still supports Sanders' plan; however, she thinks the transition period will take longer than four years, which is what Sanders proposes. More importantly, Harris — who has campaigned on lower taxes for the middle class — said she is not in favor of a middle class tax increase to pay for it.

When asked how she would pay for a that some estimate will cost around $30 trillion over 10 years, Harris noted that Wall Street could help pick up the bill through new taxes aimed at the wealthy. The CNN correspondent pressed again, noting that Sanders and other proponents of Medicare for All say it would be impossible to achieve without a middle class tax hike.

Then came Wednesday night's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" interview, where Harris was asked if she supports Medicare for All. "I do," she replied.

"Is this something that you — Medicare for All would cost the middle class or lower middle class, lower class more with something that would increase taxes?" asked Kimmel.

"No, it would not," said Harris.

However, the Medicare for All bill introduced by Sanders, as it currently stands, does propose raising taxes on the middle class, although it also says that middle class families would save money under the plan. Families of four making less than $29,000 a year would also not pay additional fees.

In a statement to CBS News, Harris' campaign said that new taxes on the middle class are "off the table" for the senator.

"A number of measures have been proposed as potential revenue raisers to pay for Medicare for All. Sanders and other experts have probably put out more than a dozen ideas, one of which is increasing middle class taxes. That one is off the table for Kamala. She believes we can raise revenues by targeting higher-end earners, corporations, and things like Wall Street financial transactions, which she mentioned on CNN. A recent financial transaction tax proposal was estimated to raise $2 trillion alone, for example, and CNN has reported Medicare for All would cost $1.4 trillion a year."

That financial transaction tax proposal, however, is estimated to raise $2 trillion over the course of a decade.

Harris' latest comments on the issue come as Medicare for All has become a major sticking point in the Democratic primary. Former Vice President Joe Biden, an opponent of Medicare for All, has recently traded jabs with Sanders over the issue. Other candidates, including Sen. Michael Bennet and former Rep. John Delaney, have also been vocal in their criticisms of Medicare for All.

First published on July 18, 2019 / 5:58 PM

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