Hickenlooper: Government Can't Compete With Private Insurance

'What if the party goes too far to the left?'

August 5, 2019

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper (D.) said the government isn't "sufficiently efficient" to compete with private health insurance plans in a recent interview.

On Firing Line, Hickenlooper dismissed the idea that a public health care option, like the one proposed by Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, would expedite a path to single-payer health care, such as the Medicare for All proposals from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.).

"If the insurance company is as efficient as they think it is, I don't think that will ever happen because I don't think government naturally can be sufficiently efficient to compete at that level," he said. "So my best guess is that a public option done properly will attract a sizable number of people, but there will always be private insurance for a variety of reasons. That's what we see in Europe."

The 2020 Democratic candidate, whose campaign is clinging to life in a crowded field, told host Margaret Hoover he shared the goal of reaching universal health care.

"I think health care should be a right, not a privilege," he said. "I think there should be universal coverage. I just don't think we are going to be able to take away private insurance from 180 million people."

Biden's $750 billion health care plan would bolster the Obamacare exchanges through large subsidies, in addition to creating a Medicare-like health care plan available to the public. "Done properly," Hickenlooper said, a public option would have an "incremental cost" of billions, not trillions, a year.

The former two-term governor, who implemented progressive reforms in Colorado, chuckled when Hoover referred to him as one of the "more moderate" Democratic candidates.

Hickenlooper and Sanders had a heated exchange at the second debate about the practicality of the party's more radical proposals, and Sanders and Warren separately parried attacks at the debate that their ideas were unworkable.

Hickenlooper warned of a repeat of the 1972 election if the Democratic Party nominated a far-left candidate. That year, Democratic nominee George McGovern was crushed by Republican president Richard Nixon, who won 49 states.

"I really think that in a funny way they are idealists," Hickenlooper said of Sanders and Warren. "Certainly, the way they are attracting young people and the young people are fired up, that's that idealism that I recognize from those days. But I think it's worth recognizing also that in 1972, McGovern was one of the most liberal candidates in Democratic history, and Richard Nixon, I think certainly until today, was by far the most corrupt president we have ever had, and he won in a landslide."

Asked if he feared a parallel between the two elections, Hickenlooper warned of alienating independents in key states Democrats lost in 2016.

"What if the party goes too far to the left that so many of those independents are going to feel uncertain, especially in states like Michigan where we were for the debate?" he asked. "Pennsylvania where I grew up, Wisconsin. These are states that the Democrats ought to be able to win against President Trump, and yet I think we make it a lot harder if we're out there talking about Medicare for All."