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Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduces the Medicare for All Act of 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduces the Medicare for All Act of 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduces the Medicare for All Act of 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

By D.L. Davis September 6, 2022

No. Despite claim, Barnes does not back 'stripping health care away from millions.'

If Your Time is short

  • While Barnes has voiced support for Medicare for All — along with a menu of other health-care reforms and changes – the claim vastly overstates what is involved.

  • Such a proposal would dramatically change the nation’s health care system, but it would ultimately provide health care for millions more people, not millions fewer.

  • Private insurance would not completely go away, in that individuals could purchase additional coverage.

In Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race, Democrats are claiming Republican incumbent Ron Johnson’s positions would undermine Social Security and Medicare, while Republicans have had this to say about Democratic challenger Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes:

"Mandela Barnes supports stripping health care away from millions and killing thousands of jobs across the country."

That was in a statement attributed to Lizzie Litzow, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to get Republicans elected nationwide. It was part of a series of news releases from the committee that try to frame Barnes as too radical for Wisconsin.

In this case, the frame provides a distorted picture of Barnes’ views.

The first clue is that the news release itself cites Barnes’ support for health care reform that fits the Medicare for All framework. 

Indeed, "all" is right there in the name.

So, does Barnes support "stripping health care away from millions."

Let’s dig in.

Barnes on Medicare for All

When asked for backup to the claim, Litzow cited an Aug. 3, 2021, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article in which Barnes was quoted on his support for a Medicare for All plan. 

(Note: There have been multiple proposals that fall under the Medicare for All  umbrella, the details of which vary, so for this fact check we’ll look at the idea generally based on the common thrust and approach).

"As I’ve done throughout my career, I’ll fight to bring common sense solutions to the United States Senate like a Medicare for all plan that helps us realize the dream of health care for every American," Barnes said in the Journal Sentinel article

Litzow also pointed to a March 23, 2019, New York Times article that says at the heart of Medicare for All proposals is "a revolutionary idea" to abolish private health insurance.

Elsewhere in its news release, the NRSC notes that private insurance is what would be impacted most by Medicare for All. But the group’s claim itself goes far beyond that, to raise fears that Barnes wants to strip way any health care from millions.

In truth, the proposals — setting aside whether they are good policy or likely to pass — aim to make sure millions of people who currently lack insurance coverage can gain access to health care.

Barnes campaign spokeswoman Maddy McDaniel told PolitiFact Wisconsin: "He supports building a path to Medicare for All and expanding health care for all Wisconsinites by strengthening the Affordable Care Act, expanding Medicaid, lowering the age of Medicare availability to 50, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, among other policies."

What is Medicare for All?

As noted, there have been various ideas and proposals that fall under the Medicare for All framework. The political figure most associated with it, of course, is U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. who made it a centerpiece of his 2016 and 2020 campaigns for president. He sought the nomination as a Democrat.

Featured Fact-check

Broadly speaking, the programs mean everyone in the United States would receive care through a program administered by the federal government. While polls have shown some public support for provisions of the plans, they have not gotten serious traction — even in a Democratic-controlled Congress — and President Joe Biden is not a supporter.

On May 12, 2022, Sanders and 14 senators, including Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., introduced the Medicare For All Act of 2022

That proposal, which has not gotten a vote, includes: Hospital and emergency services; prescriptions; primary and preventive services; mental health and substance abuse treatment; lab services; reproductive care, including abortion; pediatrics; dental and vision services; and home and long-term services. There would be no out-of-pocket expenses, insurance premiums, deductibles or co-payments. 

According to the bill’s text, it would be unlawful for a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under Medicare for All, but people would be free to buy extra insurance. 

An executive summary of the measure cited a Kaiser Family Foundation study that found about 27 million workers and their dependents lost their employer-sponsored private health insurance at some point during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a 2019 PolitiFact National article, Medicare for All approaches would replace private insurance. 

"It would replace all other insurance, with limited exceptions, such as cosmetic surgery," the article said. "Employer-provided insurance, Medicaid and ultimately Medicare would all disappear."

So, how does all of that square with the idea that Barnes’ position amounts to "stripping health care away from millions"?

The U.S. health-care system would change dramatically — but, ultimately, more people would have access to health care, not less. And everyone would have it.

According to a Sept. 14, 2021, U.S. Census Bureau report, some 8.6% of people in 2020 — or 28 million — did not have health insurance at any point during the year.

"I do not understand the logic of this claim," Barbara Wolfe, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of economics, population health sciences, and public affairs, said in an email to PolitiFact Wisconsin. "Medicare for all would extend coverage to millions. Depending on the details of the actual plan it would likely resemble coverage in other Western Democracies, where all citizens, and sometimes residents, are covered." 

Paul Ginsburg, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California Schaeffer Center and professor of health policy at the University of Sothern California, cited the example set by other countries. 

"As its name implies, MFA (Medicare For All) would cover all who are legally in the country," Ginsburg said in an email to PolitiFact Wisconsin. "Single payer systems in other countries allow individuals to purchase private insurance if they pay extra. So the claim about stripping private insurance away is not true."

Our ruling

The NRSC claimed Barnes "supports stripping health care away from millions."

Although Barnes has voiced support for Medicare for All — along with a menu of other health care reforms and changes — the claim vastly overstates what is involved, raising fears for those who hear it that they may wind up with no insurance.

Such a proposal would dramatically change the nation’s health care system, which now centers on employer-provided coverage through private insurers, but it would ultimately provide health care for millions more, not millions fewer.

We rate the claim False.




Our Sources

National Republican Senatorial Committee news release "Badger State under the Barnes rigade, Part VIII: Medicare-For-All," Aug, 24, 2022

Email, Barbara Wolfe, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Aug. 29, 2022

Email, Maddy McDaniel, Barnes campaign, Aug. 30, 2022 

Email, Paul Ginsburg, USC professor of health policy, Aug. 31, 2022

PolitiFact Wisconsin "GOP Senate group off the mark with claim that Barnes backs abolishing ICE," Aug. 29, 2022. 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Chris Larson suspends Democratic U.S. Senate campaign, endorses Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes," August 3, 2021.

The New York Times "Medicare for All would abolish private insurance. ‘There’s no precedent in American history,’ March 23, 2019.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., news release "Sanders Introduces Medicare for All with 14 Colleagues in the Senate," May 12, 2022

The Commonwealth Fund "How Many Americans Have Lost Jobs with Employer Health Coverage During the Pandemic?," Jan. 11, 2021

PolitiFact National "Medicare for All: What it is, what it isn't," Feb. 19, 2019. 

U.S. Census Bureau, "Health insurance coverage in the United States: 2020," Sept. 14, 2021. "Medicare for All Act of 2022," May 12, 2022

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No. Despite claim, Barnes does not back 'stripping health care away from millions.'

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