What is Meant by “Medicare for All”?

The Story:

The catch-phrase “Medicare for all” is set to be a cliche of the Democratic Party’s primary campaign for President in 2020. But the phrase leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Does it imply, “Also Medigap for all”?


Medicare, in the US, is a national health insurance program for the elderly, created by President Lyndon Baines Johnson as part of what Johnson called his “Great Society” social-welfare agenda. Medicare is not the full coverage of health care costs for those whom it assists. Many services (such as dental, or vision care) are not covered at all, and even within the range of covered services there are co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses once Medicare payments have reached lifetime or per-incident limits.

Given these limits, there exists a thriving industry in what is sometimes known as “Medigap” insurance, the for-profit sale of insurance to people who are covered by Medicare, but who are aware of the limitations of that coverage.

The Thing to Know:

It has become common for reporters to ask Democratic politicians who profess to support “Medicare for all” whether they want to eliminate private health insurance. The answers are taken to create a rough left-to-center spectrum among these politicians. Those who say “no” and effectively support Medigap for the general population even after Medicare is hypothetically extended to all are deemed more friendly to capitalism, and thus as less far left, than those who answer “yes” or “let’s get rid of all that.”


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