Dean Phillips, an upstart Biden challenger, embraces 'Medicare for all'


As he prepares a far-reaching primary challenge to President Biden, Rep. Dean Phillips says he has had an epiphany about American health care policy.

Gone are his years-long skepticism about adopting a single-payer national health care system. Now Phillips, a moderate Democrat from Minnesota, is embracing the “Medicare for All” proposal championed in two presidential campaigns by Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose former top aide is now advising Phillips' campaign.

Phillips said in an interview Tuesday that he would join as a cosponsor of a House proposal that would expand Medicare by creating a national health insurance program available to all Americans, a change that comes seven weeks into a presidential campaign that has not yet shown significant progress in public surveys.

“I was a good example of someone who had been convinced by propaganda that this was a meaningless leftist notion,” Phillips said. “Which it's not. It really isn't. And that I think is part of my migration, so to speak, a migration of understanding, due diligence and intellectual curiosity and, most importantly, listening to people..”

Accepting the House bill is a low-stakes maneuver. With Republicans in control of the chamber, there is little chance of a vote. Even when Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California was speaker, Democrats never voted on the Medicare for All proposals that were championed by her progressive caucus, largely because President Biden did not support such a measure, and centrist Democrats also believed that It was a bridge. far.

Phillips, who spoke in the videoconference interview from an on-screen profile that identified him as a “generic Democrat,” in a sly nod to the party with the best performance in the polls, argued that his recent evolution in health care was not a effort to flank Biden from the left.

Instead, he said, he is convinced that expanding Medicare, the government insurance program for seniors, to cover all Americans would end up saving the federal government money and should attract support not only from progressives but also conservatives, including the supporters. of former President Donald J. Trump.

This is not a Hail Mary, by any means,” Phillips said. “It is not an olive branch for progressives. Do you know what it really is? It is an invitation to Trumpers.”

Biden campaign spokesman Kevin Muñoz declined to comment on Phillips.

Phillips, a businessman who became wealthy helping run his family's liquor distilling empire and later helped build an ice cream giant, is the former chairman of the board of directors of Allina Health, one of the health care systems largest in Minnesota. He said his beliefs began to change about 10 years ago, when his daughter Pia, then 13, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, and he saw “the gaps between the haves and the have-nots.” “.

In July 2020, as a first-term congressman, he adopted a “state public option” that would allow Americans to buy into Medicaid. More recently, he said, he has been consulting with Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who is a leading sponsor of the House Medicare for All bill, backed by more than half of Democrats. of the camera.

Biden has shifted the Democratic health care conversation away from the idea of ​​a single-payer plan, focusing instead on more specific issues like reducing drug costs and improving maternal health.

“This is not a serious proposal in the current environment,” Leslie Dach, president of the health advocacy group Protect Our Care and a former Obama administration official, said of Phillips' change. “We live in an era where it takes all of our energy to protect what we have from Republicans in Congress.”

Phillips hasn't gained much ground. A poll conducted last month by CNN and the University of New Hampshire found that she had the support of about 10 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire, the only state where she has a campaign apparatus. Biden's name won't appear on the ballot there, but the same CNN poll found that 65 percent of voters said they would write her name down.

Phillips said he expected to perform well in New Hampshire before moving on to Michigan, where Biden's approval ratings in recent polls have taken a hit from Black and Arab American voters who disapprove of his support for Israel in its war against Hamas.

But Phillips offered little information between him and Biden about that conflict, which has left Democratic voters fiercely divided. The congressman said that he would not call for an immediate ceasefire and that he did not consider Israel “an apartheid state,” as many on the left maintain.

However, Phillips maintained that Democrats were so disenchanted with Biden that when presented with another option, they would take it.

“The good news is that 66 percent of the country still doesn't hate me,” Phillips said, commenting on the president's dismal approval ratings. “The United States has already made up its mind about President Biden and Vice President Harris.”

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