Iowa Voter Confronts Kamala Harris: ‘Leave Our Health Care Alone’

August 12, 2019 Updated: August 12, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) faced a tough exchange in Iowa from a local voter, who told the senator to lay off the people’s health care.

While speaking to voters at the Bickford Senior Living Center in Muscatine on Aug. 12, 91-year-old Roberta Jewell told Harris: “Leave our health care alone.”

“We don’t want you to mess with it,” Jewell added.

Harris said she doesn’t plan on messing with anybody’s health care.

“I want to make sure that it’s the way you like it,” she told Jewell. “I promise you that. I won’t mess with the health care that you have.”

Jewell also wondered who would pay for an expanded healthcare sector, asking Harris: “Whose gonna pay for it?”

“We’re going to pay for it because right now, let me tell you something, we’re all paying for health care for everyone,” Harris responded.

“No, we’re not,” Jewell said.

A slew of Democratic presidential contenders, including Harris, have endorsed some version of “Medicare-for-all,” a plan that would involve the government taking over more or all of the healthcare sector.

Democratic presidential candidates
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) (R) speaks while former Vice President Joe Biden listens during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan, on July 31, 2019. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Harris said during a town hall in January that “we need to have Medicare-for-all,” calling healthcare “a right.”

“Having a system that makes a difference in terms of who receives what based on your income is unconscionable,” she said.

Harris at one point indicated her “Medicare-for-all” proposal would include the end of private insurance but later said she would keep private insurance if companies followed “strict” government rules.

In her plan, which she released on July 29, Harris said she wants to address the issues that she says keep people up at night, such as being unable to afford a $5,000 deductible for an emergency room visit.

“Medicare works. It’s popular. Seniors transition into it every day, and people keep their doctors and get care at a lower cost. Let’s not lose sight that we have a Medicare system that’s already working. Now, let’s expand it to all Americans and give everyone access to comprehensive health care,” she wrote.

“Medicare for All will cover all medically necessary services, including emergency room visits, doctor visits, vision, dental, hearing aids, mental health, and substance use disorder treatment, and comprehensive reproductive health care services. It will also allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.”

Bernie Sanders delivers his closing statement
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)delivers his closing statement during the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Mich. on July 30, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

She said that, if passed, every American would be forced to buy into Medicare. In contrast with a similar plan laid out by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described socialist, Harris said a phase-in period would take 10 years, versus Sanders’ four. She has also not endorsed covering illegal immigrants, which Sanders did in June and repeated at a debate in July.

Some polls have shown majority support for Medicare for All but much less support if respondents are told of specific aspects, such as that taxes will need to be raised for the trillions of dollars that the system would cost.

Recent polls have shown some declining support for the proposal; 54 percent of people responding to a Marist poll (pdf) said it was a “bad idea” when asked about “Medicare for all, that is a national health insurance program for all Americans that replaces private health insurance.” That included 83 percent of Republicans and55 percent of Independents.

Seven out of 10 respondents said they supported a Medicare for all program that lets people choose between national insurance and private insurance.

Asked about a national health insurance program available for illegal immigrants, 62 percent said it was a bad idea.

Polls have also shown people generally favor the insurance they have now. Majorities across Democrats, Republicans, and Independents said they have a favorable opinion of employer-sponsored insurance, responding to a question from the Kaiser Family Foundation (pdf). When asked if they would rate the coverage they have positively, 39 percent said the coverage they have now is excellent, with another 47 percent rating it good.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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