Democrats have been talking about national health insurance since the Truman administration, and they're not likely to stop now.

Stacey Abrams, who won national attention in her campaign for governor of Georgia, addressed the issue in the Democratic response to President Donald J. Trump's State of the Union address.

"In this great nation, Americans are skipping blood pressure pills, forced to choose between buying medicine or paying rent," she said. "Maternal mortality rates show that mothers, especially black mothers, risk death to give birth. And in 14 states, including my home state where a majority want it, our leaders refuse to expand Medicaid, which could save rural hospitals, economies and lives."

Health care was a prominent issue in last year's congressional election, and it is already an issue in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Soon after launching her bid last month, Democrat Kamala Harris made headlines when she seemed to endorse a Medicare-for-all program that would get rid of private insurance.

"Let's eliminate all of that," she said.

Aides later backed away a bit, but they insisted Medicare for all remained the candidate's preference.

Republicans weren't slow to pounce.

"Democrats in 2019: If you like your plan, let's eliminate it," the Republican National Committee wrote in an email to reporters.

The idea of eliminating private health insurance also drew a response from Howard Schultz, the former Starbucks chief executive who is pondering an independent run for president.

"That's not correct," Schultz said on CBS "This Morning." "That's not American. What's next? What industry are we going to abolish next? The coffee industry?"

Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, told The Hill that staking out a position on health care will be tricky for his party's presidential hopefuls. A winning argument in the Democratic primary, he said, might be far less popular in the general election.

"That's the balance," he said.

Still, at least on the surface, Medicare for all is a popular concept.

A survey taken in January for the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 56 percent of respondents would support a national health plan.

Asked whether they believed health care should be a right for all Americans, seven out of 10 respondents said yes. Nearly as many said they would also support a plan that would eliminate all health insurance premiums and reduce out-of-pocket health care costs.

But if that meant most Americans would pay more in taxes, fewer than four in 10 respondents were still on board.

The same went for getting rid of private insurance. Only 37 percent of respondents supported that.

And even fewer would support a plan that threatened the current Medicare program or a plan that would lead to delays in patients getting certain medical tests or procedures.

Still, Medicare might well be at the center of whatever solution eventually emerges from this debate.

The program, after all, already includes the possibility of private sector participation.

Medicare Part A covers hospital expenses. Part B, which comes at an additional cost, covers physicians' visits and other expenses. Part D covers prescription drugs.

And then there is Part C, the Medicare Advantage plans. These are private insurance policies that cover items not included under Medicare.

A Medicare-for-all plan that includes supplemental coverage from the private sector might be just what the doctor ordered.

And remember this: Studies have shown that a national health insurance program will actually save money. A study funded by the Koch brothers put the savings at trillions of dollars over 10 years.

So the message to Democrats is simple. Health care could be a winning issue. Candidates just need to find that elusive solution.

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at

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