The Trump administration's Medicare chief on Wednesday slammed Sen. Bernie Sanders' call for a national health plan, saying "Medicare for All" would undermine care for seniors and become "Medicare for None."
The broadside from Medicare and Medicaid administrator Seema Verma came in a San Francisco speech that coincides with a focus on health care in contentious midterm congressional elections.
Sanders, a Vermont independent, fired back at Trump's Medicare chief in a statement that chastised her for trying to "throw" millions of people off their health insurance during the administration's failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Verma's made her comments toward the end of a lengthy speech before the Commonwealth Club of California, during which she delved into arcane details of Medicare payment policies.
Denouncing what she called the "drumbeat" for "government-run socialized health care," Verma said "Medicare for All" would "only serve to hurt and divert focus from seniors."
"You are giving the government complete control over decisions pertaining to your care, or whether you receive care at all," she added.
"In essence, Medicare for All would become Medicare for None," she said. Verma also said she disapproved of efforts in California to set up a state-run health care system, which would require her agency's blessing.
In his response, Sanders said that "Medicare is, by far, the most cost-effective, efficient and popular health care program in America.
He added: "Medicare has worked extremely well for our nation's seniors and will work equally well for all Americans."
The Sanders proposal would add benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, coverage for eyeglasses, most dental care, and hearing aids. It would also eliminate deductibles and copayments that Medicare and private insurance plans currently require.
Independent analyses of the Sanders plan have focused on the enormous tax increases that would be needed to finance it, not on concern about any potential harm to seniors currently enrolled in Medicare.
But so-called "Mediscare" tactics have been an effective political tool for both parties in recent years, dating back to Republican Sarah Palin's widely debunked "death panels" to fan opposition to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Democrats returned the favor after Republicans won control of the House in 2010 and tried to promote a Medicare privatization plan.
Democrats clearly believe supporting "Medicare for All" will give them an edge in this year's midterm elections.
More than 60 House Democrats recently launched a "Medicare for All" caucus, trying to tap activists' fervor for universal health care that helped propel Sanders' unexpectedly strong challenge to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Just a few years ago, Sanders could not find co-sponsors for his legislation.
A survey earlier this year by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post found that 51 percent of Americans would support a national health plan, while 43 percent opposed it. Nearly 3 out of 4 Democrats backed the idea, as did 54 percent of independents. But only 16 percent of Republicans supported the Sanders approach.
Early in his career as a political figure, President Donald Trump spoke approvingly of Canada's single-payer health care system, roughly analogous to Sanders' approach. But by the 2016 presidential campaign Trump had long abandoned that view.