It’s also the latest sign that Phillips is looking to win over progressive voters who may be disillusioned with Biden as he runs a long-shot primary campaign against the president. Biden declined to support “Medicare for All” legislation during the 2020 primary, even as some traditional Democrats like Kamala Harris joined Bernie Sanders and other liberals in endorsing the idea.
In an interview, Phillips acknowledged that the “journey” he has taken to “Medicare for All” has been “a long one.” An heir to a liquor fortune, Phillips said he took access to health care for granted most of his life. But that changed almost a decade ago, he said, when his then-teenage daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and he watched as other children in her hospital battled disease without health insurance.
He said that he continued to rethink the issue when he opened coffee shops in 2016 and couldn’t afford to give his part-time employees health insurance, which he called “profoundly disappointing.” Then, when he won a congressional seat in 2018, he said his evolution continued as he found himself representing a district where UnitedHealth Group was headquartered.
“I started to recognize this massive disconnect between the behemoths in the health insurance business and then the people that I represented, who were telling me the most horrifying stories about having their coverage denied or having to take on medical debt or going bankrupt,” he said.
Still, Phillips did not endorse “Medicare for All” legislation until now, and he grants that he continues to take issue with key provisions of the bill. But he linked his movement toward the proposal as tied to other ideas he has supported in the past, such as a state-based public option and legislation aimed at making it easier for states to implement universal health care.
“I have a progressive heart, a pragmatic head, and want to work with people on both sides of the aisle to achieve better outcomes for the country that both improve care and lower costs,” he said. “Those are the best combinations of progressive and conservative principles I could possibly imagine, and that makes this proposition remarkably centrist.”
Phillips said he still has “some differences of opinion on some of the transitional plans and some of the parameters” of the “Medicare for All” bill he plans to put his name on, which was introduced by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
In a white paper, he states that he thinks most Americans will eventually choose the “Medicare for All” plan voluntarily, and his team estimates that within a decade there may only be a few private plans left on the fringes. He likened his proposal to the public education system, where everyone has access to public school but also has the option to attend private school or be homeschooled.
Phillips declined to provide the exact means by which “Medicare for All,” which analysts have said would cost trillions, should be funded. In the white paper, he laid out ideas that he said have been suggested by others, such as income-based premiums, business premiums and closing tax loopholes. But he said it would ultimately be up to Congress to decide.
During his presidential campaign that he launched in October, Phillips has made other attempts to win over progressives, bashing Biden over his opposition to marijuana legalization and criticizing Israel in its war against Hamas. But some on the left think his moves have been ham-fisted and ingenuine.
At the same time, Phillips has taken moderate positions on other issues, knocking Biden over the border and saying that U.S. special forces should potentially play a role rescuing American hostages in Gaza.
Phillips’ team said he will formally co-sign the “Medicare for All” bill on Wednesday.