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Has Elizabeth Warren Painted Herself Into a Corner on Health Care?

Not into small steps. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Ben: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren spent much of last night’s debate defending their ambitious health-care plans, which call for Americans to transition from private to public insurance, as a field of moderates attacked them for being unrealistic and giving Republicans ready-made talking points. Both candidates were seen as turning in strong performances overall; do you think they effectively made their case that big, sweeping changes to the health-care system are the way to go over smaller, incremental ones?

Ed: I think they were able effectively to get across the simple points that in their proposals any higher middle-class taxes would be more than offset by the elimination of out-of-pocket costs, and that the current system is plenty disruptive.

activist Ady Barkan, who spends thousands on the care he needs for his ALS despite having insurance; Sanders recently traveled to Canada with diabetes patients who have to cross the border to buy affordable insulin. Against such dramatic evidence, the assertion that incrementalism could sufficiently address the injustices inflicted on people by our current system really falls short.

wrote on Twitter: “I had hoped that Warren would use the occasion to start climbing out of the hole she’s stumbled into on health care. Instead she dug it deeper.” He advocates a hybrid approach to getting everyone coverage, something like what Kamala Harris has proposed, instead of the all-or-nothing one favored by the structural-change candidates, which tends to be less popular in polling, since people generally don’t like the idea of disruption. Has Warren constrained herself by being relatively inflexible on this point?

Ed: I understand why Bernie is inflexible on this, since it’s a signature proposal (he did, as he pointed out last night, “write the damn bill”). I’m not sure it makes sense for Warren to refuse at least to embrace a way station to M4A in the extremely likely event it cannot get through Congress. The heavy investment of progressive activists in M4A as a — sorry to use the term, but in this case it’s accurate — litmus test may influence her course of action.

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