Dean Phillips, an Upstart Challenger to Biden, embraces Medicare for All

As he mounted a longtime primary challenge to President Biden, Representative Dean Phillips said he had an epiphany about American health care policy.

His public skepticism about adopting a national single-payer health care system disappeared. Now Mr. Phillips, a moderate Democrat from Minnesota, embraced the Medicare for All proposal championed in two presidential campaigns by Senator Bernie Sanders whose former top aide now advises Mr. Phillipss campaign.

said Mr. Phillips in an interview Tuesday that he will join as a co-sponsor a House measure 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 yet to show significant progress in public polling.

I’m a good example of someone who has been convinced by propaganda that this is an absurd left-wing notion, Mr. Phillips said. Nope. Not really. And I think that was part of my transition, if you will, a transition of understanding and due diligence and intellectual curiosity and most of all, listening to people.

Passing the House bill is a low-stakes maneuver. With Republicans in control of the chamber, it has little chance of passing a vote. Even when Representative Nancy Pelosi of California was speaker, Democrats never held a vote on the Medicare for All proposals that their progressive caucus had fought for because President Biden did not support such a measure, and centrist Democrats believed that it is a bridge too far.

Mr. Phillips, who spoke in the interview via videoconference, from an onscreen profile identifying him as a Generic Democrat in a subtle nod to the parties that perform best in the polls argued that his recent evolution on health care is not an effort to surpass Mr. Biden from leaving.

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

It’s not a Hail Mary, by any stretch, Mr. Phillips said. This is not an olive branch to progressives. You know what it really is? This is an invitation to Trumpers.

Mr. Bidens campaign spokesman, Kevin Munoz, declined to comment on Mr. Phillips.

Mr. Phillips, a businessman who made his fortune helping run his family’s wine distilling empire and later helped build the gelato behemoth, is a former board chairman of Allina Health, one of Minnesota’s largest health care systems. She said her beliefs began to change about 10 years ago, when her daughter Pia, then 13, received a diagnosis of Hodgkins lymphoma, and she saw the gaps between having property and nothing.

In July 2020, as a first-term congressman, he accepted a public state option that would allow Americans to buy into Medicaid. Recently, he said, he consulted with Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is a leading sponsor of the House Medicare for All bill, which is supported by more than half of House Democrats.

Mr. Biden has steered the Democratic conversation about health care away from the idea of ​​a single-payer plan, focusing instead on narrower issues such as lowering drug costs and improving maternal health.

It’s not a serious environmental proposal today, Leslie Dach, the president of the health advocacy group Protect Our Care and a former Obama administration official, said of Mr. Phillips switch. We live in a time where it takes all our strength to protect what we have from the Republicans in Congress.

Mr. Phillips did not gain much traction. A poll last month from CNN and the University of New Hampshire found that he has support from about 10 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire, the only state where he has a campaign apparatus. Mr. Biden’s name was not on the ballot there, but the same CNN poll found that 65 percent of voters said they would write in his name.

said Mr. Phillips said he hopes to do well in New Hampshire before moving on to Michigan, where Mr. 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 Mr. Phillips has offered little in the light of day between himself and Mr. Biden in that battle, which has sharply divided Democratic voters. The congressman said he would not call for an immediate ceasefire and did not consider Israel an apartheid state, as many on the left have argued.

Still, Mr. Phillips contended that Democrats were so disillusioned with Mr. Biden that if given another option, they would take it.

The good news is that 66 percent of the country doesn’t hate me yet, Mr. Phillips said, in a dig at the president’s dismal approval ratings. America has made up its mind about President Biden and Vice President Harris.

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