Health Care Overhaul Unpopular in Suburban Districts

MO Dem dodges on Medicare for All after urging elimination of private insurance

Getty Images

A Democratic congressional candidate has backpedaled from her support of Medicare for All since launching her campaign, reflecting the proposal's political toxicity in swing districts that could determine the House majority in 2020.

As a state representative in 2012, Jill Schupp sponsored a Missouri resolution urging Congress to pass the Improved and Expanded Medicare for All Act, which would have established a nationwide single-payer health care system and made it illegal for private insurance companies to offer competing plans. Schupp, who is looking to unseat GOP representative Ann Wagner, also advocated for a public option in 2009, when she signed on to a Progressive States Network letter demanding "progressive health care reform" that went further than Obamacare.

But the Democratic state senator has refused to take a stance on Medicare for All since launching her congressional campaign in December. In an interview with CBS affiliate KMOV, Schupp mentioned health care as a key issue, but waffled when asked if she would keep Obamacare in place.

"Look, I think we can find common ground—what people in this district and in this country really want is to make sure that the people of our nation are healthy," Schupp said. She was even more vague when the Kansas City Star asked her about Medicare for All in a January interview.

"There's a lot of sausage making that goes into complex issues like this," Schupp said. "And we need to let the sausage-making happen, so that we don't have a plan that then someone turns around and tries to undo."

The Schupp campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Schupp's campaign rhetoric reflects Medicare for All's vulnerability in suburban districts. More than 80 percent of adults in Missouri's Second Congressional District have private health insurance, according to the Census Bureau. Wagner was narrowly reelected in 2018, two years after her district voted for Trump by 11 points, as Republicans lost control of the House. The unpopularity of Medicare for All—support falls dramatically when respondents learn more details about the system—could allow the GOP to win back many of the suburban voters it lost in 2018.

Schupp is not the first progressive to walk back support for Medicare for All. In June, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) faced criticism for saying she would eliminate private health insurance. She amended her proposal in November to delay a single-payer system for three years as the government expands public health insurance. Warren's $20.5 trillion cost estimate for Medicare for All has also been widely disputed even in progressive circles. The liberal Urban Institute estimated that a government-run system would cost taxpayers $34 trillion, an estimate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) has agreed with. The Massachusetts senator has since refrained from discussing health care on the campaign trail.

Suburban Democrats like Schupp would be justified in retreating from Medicare for All, according to Manhattan Institute health care expert Chris Pope. Pope said broken promises like former president Obama's assurance that "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan" have bred "cynicism or wariness" even among left-leaning voters.

"Upscale Democrats have a degree of comfort with paying higher taxes to subsidize care for lower income individuals," he said. "That's very different from telling these same people that their quality of care will be reduced, that they're not going to have access to medical care as easily as they have traditionally. That's going to be politically very unpopular."

Several suburban Democrats have criticized Medicare for All as they attempt to hold their seats. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D., Mich.), whose district favored Trump by 7 points in 2016, dismissed the proposal as contradicting "the American way of life," and polls revealed it makes her constituents "nervous." At the start of the 2020 presidential primary, Rep. Elaine Luria (D., Va.) said she was "not on board" with Medicare for All. Her constituents also voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D., N.Y.), whose district went to Trump by 15 points, said in July that the leftward drift of Democratic presidential contenders could hurt Democrats down the ballot.

"I think [Medicare for All is] a losing message for 2020, and I think the Democratic presidential candidates have to realize that this is not a far-left country nor is it a far-right country," Brindisi said. "I think we're all very vulnerable the further to the left some of the presidential candidates go."

Wagner's campaign declined to comment.