As he mounts a long-shot challenge to President Biden, Rep. Dean Phillips says he had an epiphany about U.S. health care policy.

Gone is his long-standing skepticism about adopting a single-payer national health care system. Today, Mr. Phillips, a moderate Democrat from Minnesota, embraces the “Medicare for All” proposal championed in two presidential campaigns by Senator Bernie Sanders — whose former senior adviser now advises Mr. Phillips’s campaign.

Mr. Phillips said in an interview Tuesday that he would join as a co-sponsor of a House proposal that would expand Medicare by creating a national health insurance program available to all Americans, a change that comes seven weeks after the start of a presidential campaign that has yet to show significant progress in public polls.

“I was a good example of someone who had been convinced by propaganda that this was an absurd left-wing notion,” Mr. Phillips said. “It’s not. It’s really not. And I think that’s part of my migration, if you will, a migration of understanding and due diligence and intellectual curiosity and, more importantly, d listen to people..”

Passing the House bill is a low-stakes maneuver. With Republicans controlling the House, this is unlikely to come to a vote. Even when Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California was speaker, Democrats never voted on the Medicare for All proposals championed by their progressive caucus — largely because President Biden did not support such a move and that centrist Democrats thought it was also a bridge. far.

Mr Phillips – who spoke in the videoconference interview, from an on-screen profile identifying him as a “generic Democrat” in a sly nod to the party’s best showing in the polls — argued that his recent move on health care was not an attempt to outflank Mr. Biden from the left.

Instead, he said, he became convinced that expanding Medicare, the government’s insurance program for seniors, to cover all Americans would ultimately save the federal government money and should attract support not only from progressives but also conservatives – including donors. of former President Donald J. Trump.

This is in no way a Hail Mary,” Mr Phillips said. “This is not an olive branch to progressives. Do you know what it really is? “This is an invitation to Trumpers.”

Mr. Biden’s campaign spokesman, Kevin Munoz, declined to comment on Mr. Phillips.

Mr. Phillips, businessman who got rich helping run his family’s business alcohol distillation empire and later helped build an ice cream giant, he is a former chairman of the board of Allina Health, one of Minnesota’s largest health systems. He said his beliefs began to change about 10 years ago, when his daughter Pia, then 13, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and he saw “the gap between the haves and The poors “.

In July 2020, as a first-term congressman, he passed a “state public option” that would allow Americans to enroll in Medicaid. More recently, he said, he consulted with Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is a lead sponsor of the House Medicare for all billsupported by more than half of House Democrats.

Mr. Biden has shifted the Democratic debate on health care away from the idea of ​​a single-payer plan, focusing instead on narrower issues like reducing drug costs and improving maternal health.

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

Mr. Phillips has not gained much ground. A poll conducted last month by CNN and the University of New Hampshire found that he had the support of about 10 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire, the only state where he has a campaign apparatus. Mr. Biden’s name will not appear on the ballot, but the same CNN poll found that 65% of voters said they would write in his name.

Mr. Phillips said he hoped to do well in New Hampshire before moving on to Michigan, where Mr. Biden’s approval ratings in recent polls have been hurt by black and Arab American voters who disapprove of his support for Israel in its war against Hamas.

But Mr. Phillips has done little between himself and Mr. Biden on this conflict, which has left Democratic voters fiercely divided. The congressman said he would not call for an immediate ceasefire and that he did not view Israel as “an apartheid state,” as many on the left maintain.

Yet Mr. Phillips argued that Democrats were so disillusioned with Mr. Biden that when presented with another option, they would choose it.

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

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