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'Illuminating Exchange on Health Care' Reveals Beto Doesn't Think Insurance Industry Motivated by Greed

"Beto is anti Medicare for All, which last time I checked, had the support of the vast majority of Democrats and even a slim majority of Republicans."

Beto O'Rourke speaks to supporters.

Beto O'Rourke speaks to supporters. (Photo: Beto O'Rourke Twitter account)

Beto O'Rourke is attracting criticism from Medicare for All proponents after the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said he doesn't believe the existence of the for-profit insurance industry is a "function of greed" during a campaign stop in Iowa over the weekend.

O'Rourke, the former Texas Congressman who lost a narrow Senate election to Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) last November, made the remark in Independence, Iowa, during a barnstorming tour of the first in-the-nation caucus state. O'Rourke jumped into the crowded Democratic primary for president last Thursday, raising a record $6.1 million in his first 24 hours.

Medicare For All, the universal health care program proposed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is a major issue on the campaign trail this year.

Despite the policy's broad popularity, however, conservative Democrats have been hesitant to endorse universal health care. Instead, O'Rourke has promoted "Medicare for America," presenting Medicare as a public option that Americans have the option of buying into—allowing people to keep their employer insurance if they so choose. 

"It complements what already exists with the need that we have for millions of Americans who do not have insurance and ensures that each of them can enroll in Medicare," O'Rourke said Saturday in Independence. "It then suggests additional investments in that program so it becomes the program of choice and people who have private insurance migrate over to the Medicare system."

That answer wasn't satisfactory to an audience member who originally asked O'Rourke for more concrete policy ideas.

"So the greed has to stay in the insurance industry in your opinion?" asked the man.

"I don't see it as a function of greed," said O'Rourke. 

Political theorist Corey Robin, acriticized O'Rourke's premise that Americans are enamored with their insurance. 

"I really want to meet these 'many Americans' who are so happy with their insurance," said Robin in a Facebook post he shared on Twitter, "who are so confident about stability of their current job (and its healthcare benefits), such that they think the best way to guarantee that they keep seeing their doctor is not to have Medicare For All."

In O'Rourke's view, he explained, people that like their insurance should be allowed to stay in their plans. The former Congressman analogized the issue to doctors in private practice and expressed his hope that the private insurance industry could work with public care in a "uniquely American" way.

"If we become too ideological or too prescribed in the solution, we may allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good," O'Rourke aded. "And there are fellow American human lives depending on us finding a solution."

Texas Tribune reporter Patrick Svitek called the back and forth "the most illuminating exchange on health care of @BetoORourke's Iowa trip so far."

Reaction was harsh from health care advocates who were dissatisfied by the response and what that indicates about O'Rourke's priorities. 

It remains to be seen if O'Rourke's position on healthcare—whatever it is—will have an effect on his candidacy. But a lack of consistent messaging is beginning to wear on observers. 

"He doesn't have a message right now," said Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough on Monday. "It's all goop."

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