Booker Dodges on Whether He Supports Eliminating Insurance Companies

Sen. Cory Booker
Sen. Cory Booker / Getty Images

Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) spent a minute and a half Friday dodging the question of whether he would support the government eliminating all insurance companies.

Booker announced his run for president earlier in the day and joined a rapidly growing pool of presidential candidates, several of whom have already fumbled the question on health care.

A radio host referenced Sen. Kamala Harris's (D., Calif.) support for "universal health care" and eliminating private health care. "What's your position on that?" the interviewer asked.

Booker began his response with a slogan from his campaign launch video. "Remember, we have a common pain in this country, but we've lost that sense of common purpose."

He took a step back, reframing the insurance policy question as a broader public health question. "Where I start on the issues of health care is … there shouldn't be a person in this country that has to put aside a prescription drug, a life-saving drug, an EpiPen, because they can't afford it. There shouldn't be a person in this country that if they get sick, they put off going to the doctor because they can't afford it or they wait until it gets so bad that they go to the emergency room," he said.

He said he's been a "big believer" in "Medicare for all," but would not acknowledge if it would eliminate private insurance.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), facing the question Thursday, initially offered an unresponsive answer. When pressed again, she said: "Right now, there are multiple bills on the floor in the United States Senate. I've signed on to ‘Medicare for all.' I've signed onto another one that gives an option for buying into Medicaid. There are different ways we can get there, but the key has to be: always keep the center of the bullseye in mind, and that is affordable health care for every American."

Harris, who is also running for president, ran into trouble when CNN's Jake Tapper asked her in Iowa about doing away with the entire insurance industry. At first, she too dodged the question. Tapper pressed further, saying he believed "Medicare for all" would totally eliminate private insurance. Harris then said it's time to "move on" from insurance companies.

"Well, listen, the idea is that 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 has 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 is going to cover this.' Let's eliminate all of that. Let's move on," Harris said.

Harris quickly walked back her comments, though her staff continues to tout her support for the industry's elimination, according to CNN.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) responded to Harris's original statement by endorsing it himself. Brown is currently on an Iowa "listening tour" as he prepares for a potential run for president. "I stand with her on that," he said in an interview on MSNBC.

The move has divided Democrats, even those not running for president. Some, like Sens. Tim Kaine (D., Va.) and Michael Bennet (D., Colo.), have opposed the proposal in past years. In an October 2017 interview with MSNBC, they said "it's just unreasonable to force people to buy insurance when there is no competition."

During the interview on Friday, Booker sought to explain his reluctance to answer the question as stated.

"As a guy who had to run something as a mayor, I'm not going to talk in political slogans," he said. "I'm going to let folks know that we can do so much better."

Booker called for Congress to do "common sense things" and promised "pragmatic solutions that are going to expand access dramatically," but did not offer any policy details.

His campaign launch video promises a focus on unity, opportunity, and criminal justice.