Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Unveils Universal Healthcare Plan

Presidential candidate Kamala Harris has unveiled an ambitious new healthcare proposal. Released just before the second Democratic presidential candidate debates, which will take place in Detroit, Michigan on July 30 and 31, the plan serves as both a corrective and a clarification of Harris’ comments on healthcare made during the first Democratic debate in June. When asked whether she would be willing to abandon the private health insurance system, Harris confirmed that she would. Afterwards, when questioned by the media about her response, Harris indicated that she misunderstood the moderator’s question — she had interpreted the question as whether she would give up her private insurance plan for a government option. This gaffe led critics and supporters to believe that she favored a “Medicare for All” policy. “Medicare for All” is a proposal that makes all Americans eligible to participate in the government insured program. Her newly unveiled plan seeks to clarify her position on healthcare by setting out clearly defined roles for the government and private insurance companies.

The Harris plan seeks to provide an antidote to some of the most contentious debates in the American insurance marketplace by addressing the healthcare issues most Americans worry and complain about: a lack of preventative care; high deductibles; a lack of adequate coverage; and prices and options directed by the insurance companies.

Another important impetus for the plan is the Republican efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, the national health plan instituted under President Obama that insured more than 30 million Americans. Harris’ plan proposes to give all Americans access to the Medicare system by providing comprehensive medical coverage for all necessary services, including emergency room visits, doctor visits, vision, dental, hearing aids, mental health care, substance use disorder treatment, and comprehensive reproductive care. The plan also addresses the issue of preventative care by proposing to expand access to telehealth, programs that promote early diagnosis and treatment, and finding new ways to connect patients to physicians. The plan also aims at helping patients navigate the healthcare system, according to Harris’ website.

The plan will also allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. In addition, a comprehensive audit will be conducted of all pharmaceutical companies to make sure they are not charging more for drugs in the United States when compared to other countries around the world. Harris also has prioritized addressing the important health disparities facing women of color and rural communities. Her plan provides for a comprehensive maternal and child health program designed to reduce deaths among infants and women of color. For rural areas, there would be an increase in the number of residency slots and more extensive loan forgiveness for rural medical professionals. These offerings are designed to increase access to high-quality medical care, regardless of one’s zip code.

According to Harris’ campaign website, the plan, upon passage, will allow all Americans to buy into the system. This provision is designed to lower overall costs and provide a baseline for a transition to Medicare for All. The plan will also “set up an expanded Medicare system, with a 10-year phase-in period.” This approach will enroll newborns and the uninsured automatically.

However, this phase-in period will give doctors, employers, employees, the underinsured, and those on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act time to enroll in the program. This design is meant to establish a universal system with lower costs.

Perhaps, one of the most important questions is what role private insurance companies will have in the Harris plan. The plan allows private insurers the opportunity to offer Medicare plans. These plans, however, must abide by strict requirements related to price and quality. The government will set the rules as opposed to the private insurers. In this way, the program will preserve the options that currently exist for seniors while also expanding opportunities for all Americans. The most important issue for prospective supporters and critics is how to pay for this massive expansion of the American healthcare system. Rather than applying a four percent income-based premium to families making more than $29,000 a year, a hallmark of the Medicare for All program proposed by Bernie Sanders, Harris proposes to exempt households that make less than $100,000, with a higher income threshold for families in high-cost areas. Instead Harris proposes to “tax Wall Street stock trades at 0.2 (percent), bond trades at 0.1 (percent), and derivative transactions at 0.002 (percent).” This amounts to $2 on a $1,000 trade by investors and large banks. She is also interested in ending “foreign tax shelters by taxing offshore corporate income at the same rate as domestic corporate income.” These efforts are designed to raise $2 trillion over 10 years. According to Harris’ campaign, the ultimate goal is to ensure access to universal healthcare and reduce out-of-pocket costs.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America and is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.