South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg—the leading recipient of campaign cash from the healthcare industry among Democratic presidential candidates—went on the offensive against Medicare for All with right-wing talking points during Tuesday night's debate, bashing the popular proposal as a tax hike on the middle class that would kick "150 million Americans off of their insurance in four short years."
Buttigieg's debate performance was met with enthusiastic applause from cable news talking heads and conservative commentators, but progressive critics and health policy experts said the mayor's attacks on Medicare for All were deceptive at best and, at worst, blatant falsehoods.
"Mayor Pete was spinning a pack of lies about Medicare for All last night," The Week's Ryan Cooper tweeted Wednesday morning.
"The problem with Pete Buttigieg's 'Medicare if you want it' is it won't bring the administrative costs down of private insurers or maximize negotiation with Big Pharma and hospitals."
—Rep. Ro Khanna
In a column on Wednesday, Cooper argued that Buttigieg's two primary lines of attack against Medicare for All during the debate—that it would hike taxes on the middle class and cost trillions of dollars—were highly misleading.
Buttigieg took aim at Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for refusing to "acknowledge" Medicare for All would raise taxes on middle-class Americans, echoing attacks he leveled against Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the days leading up to Tuesday night's debate.
As Mayor Pete buys ads attacking Sanders and Warren for their support of Medicare for All, note that he’s gotten the most campaign cash from the health care industry among all Dem candidates—second only to Trump in the race. https://t.co/e7k7lM5DWo
— Alex Kotch (@alexkotch) October 15, 2019
Cooper wrote that it is "very obvious" why Warren refuses to describe Medicare for All as a tax increase on the middle class, "and it is arguably more accurate for her to do so."
"What really matters here is that, while Medicare for All would require some additional taxes on the middle class, those increases would be more than compensated for by zeroing out premiums, co-pays, and deductibles," Cooper noted.
Buttigieg's claim that Medicare for All would cost trillions of dollars—and that his incremental plan, called "Medicare for All Who Want It," would cost less—was also false, Cooper said.
"He was likely referencing the study from the libertarian Mercatus Center about how much additional tax revenue would be needed to finance Medicare for All—just over $30 trillion, as Joe Biden said later. What that figure leaves out is that total healthcare spending under universal Medicare would go down by some $2 trillion over a decade," Cooper wrote. "Those savings would necessarily be less in more fragmented systems which would preserve private insurance—like the one proposed by Pete Buttigeig. In other words, Mayor Pete's plan would be more expensive than Medicare for All."
Others joined Cooper in pushing back against Buttigieg, who appears to be positioning himself as the establishment alternative as Biden fades in the polls.
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In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said "the problem with Pete Buttigieg's 'Medicare if you want it' is it won't bring the administrative costs down of private insurers or maximize negotiation with Big Pharma and hospitals."
"This means higher premiums, higher drug costs, higher deductibles, and more denied claims for the middle class," said Khanna.
You pay for M4A by taxing employers, the rich, & corporations &, at worst, a premium similar to Medicare B. That premium is MUCH LESS than what Buttigieg requires to pay but @BernieSanders & @ewarren have never used R talking points in saying @PeteButtigieg wants to raise taxes!
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) October 16, 2019
M4A will be far less expensive because it saves insurance and admin costs. It’s not honest to ask Americans to pay for the system’s private insurance costs in a public option “gliding” to M4A & then accuse M4A advocates lowering those costs of raising taxes. Give me a break.
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) October 16, 2019
Alluding to Buttigieg's claim that Medicare for All would "infringe" on Americans' freedoms, Khanna tweeted, "Anyone on the debate stage last night who said that Medicare for All is about taking away choice is being dishonest."
"Do they believe seniors over 65 on Medicare lack choice?" asked Khanna. "Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All is about freedom and the pursuit of happiness."
Amid widespread backlash, Buttigieg doubled down on his criticism of Medicare for All Wednesday by launching new Facebook ads attacking Warren for supporting the policy, which would guarantee comprehensive healthcare for everyone in the U.S. states for free at the point of service.
Pete Buttigieg released new Facebook ads this AM attacking Warren for supporting Medicare-for-All pic.twitter.com/G163AOOHcV
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) October 16, 2019
"Mayor Pete sounds like he's on the payroll of the Republican National Committee," economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeted during Tuesday night's debate.