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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg February 6, 2019

Ocasio-Cortez says there is 70% support for Medicare for All

After President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said that she feels that Trump is losing to Democrats on the issues.

"Every single policy proposal that we have adopted and presented to the American public has been overwhelmingly popular," Ocasio-Cortez said on MSNBC on Feb. 5. "When we talked about a 70 percent marginal tax rate on incomes over $10 million, 60 percent of Americans approve it. Seventy percent of Americans believe in improved and expanded Medicare for All."

We evaluated American support for a 70 percent marginal tax rate in a separate fact-check. In this fact-check, we wanted to parse her statement about U.S. support for Medicare for All.

It’s trickier to fact-check than it might appear. Ocasio-Cortez combined support for Medicare for All, which is a sweeping single-payer health care proposal, with expanded Medicare, which potentially is much narrower and certainly is less well defined.

Poll results vary

Medicare for All is a relatively new proposal for the Democrats and not fully fleshed out. Americans haven't had a lot of time to assess the details and the issues, which affects poll results.

Ocasio-Cortez’s number comes from a summer 2018 Reuters/Ipsos poll. It asked a random sample of nearly 3,000 adults, "Would you oppose or support a policy of Medicare for All?" Overall, 70 percent said they would support it. About half of Republicans also had a positive take on the idea.

But that survey is the high-water mark.

A more recent survey in January from the long-running Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll found 56 percent of their random sample who said they strongly or somewhat favored the idea, which was presented to them as "having a national health plan, sometimes called Medicare for All, in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan."

Notice the emphasis on "all Americans" in the question.

When pollsters asked people how they felt about "creating a national government administered health plan similar to Medicare that would be open to anyone, but would allow people to keep the coverage they have if they prefer," support jumped to 74 percent.

That matters, because both the Senate and House bills proposing Medicare for All would eliminate virtually all private insurance. Retaining private options increased the polling results.

Support rose a hair higher — to 77 percent — when the question was about allowing people between ages 50 and 64 to buy insurance through the Medicare program.

Featured Fact-check

Opening up Medicare to younger people falls under the category of expanded Medicare. But it isn’t the same as Medicare for All, because it wouldn’t cover everyone.

Support vulnerable to counter messages

The Kaiser survey tested how people reacted when they heard about some of the criticisms of Medicare for All.

Asked what they thought if they heard that that Medicare for All would eliminate private insurance, support dropped to 37 percent. Ditto if they heard that it would require most Americans to pay more in taxes. If they thought it would threaten the current Medicare program, only 32 percent backed the program.

So what drove their support for the concept in general?

"I think what they are giving a thumbs up to is the idea that everyone will have guaranteed coverage," said Liz Hamel, director of Kaiser’s public opinion research team.

Labels matter. Hamel said Americans know and trust Medicare, and that has affected polling. In 2018, when the term Medicare for All replaced the term single-payer health care, she said support rose.

We found one other poll from a team at Boston University and Harvard University that found only 36 percent in favor of Medicare for All. That study comes with less of a track record to assess its accuracy.

Ocasio-Cortez’s press office told us they know that polling varies, but they think her statement was accurate based on recent results.

The day after she appeared on MSNBC, CNN released a new poll. It asked if "the government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if this would require higher taxes?" And 54 percent said yes.

Our ruling

Ocasio-Cortez said, "70 percent of Americans believe in improved and expanded Medicare for All." Judged against whether the public supports the idea of Medicare for All as a full replacement of other health insurance, only one poll shows support as high as Ocasio-Cortez said.

A benchmark poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation put support at 56 percent, and support fell dramatically when pollsters raised potential downsides. Another survey, of less certain quality, had support at 36 percent.

Enthusiasm for expanding Medicare to people over 50 reaches into the high 70s, but that approach wouldn’t fit the definition of Medicare for All.

We rate this claim Half True.

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Half True
"70 percent of Americans believe in improved and expanded Medicare for All."
In an interview with MSNBC
Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Our Sources

MSNBC, Post-State of the Union Special, Feb. 5, 2019

Kaiser Family Foundation, January 2019: The Public On Next Steps For The ACA And Proposals To Expand Coverage, Jan. 23, 2019

Reuters, Inside the progressive movement roiling the Democratic Party, Aug. 23, 2018

Boston University/Harvard University, National Survey Finds Public Split on Medicare for All, in Favor of a Medicaid Buy In Policy, accessed Feb. 6, 2019

CNN, January-February poll, Feb. 6, 2019

Email interview, Liz Hamel, director, Kaiser Family Foundation Public Opinion and Survey Research, Feb. 6, 2019

Email interview, Corbin Trent, director of communications, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Feb. 6, 2019

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Ocasio-Cortez says there is 70% support for Medicare for All

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