Iowa Democrats worry ‘Medicare for All’ hurts key industry


Associated Press

DES MOINES — Kim Motl doesn’t work in the health insurance industry. But her friends and neighbors do. So when she saw Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently in Fort Dodge, Motl pressed the Democratic presidential candidate about her “Medicare for All” plan, which would replace private insurance with a government-run system.

“What about the little guys that work in the insurance business, that support our communities? The secretary that works for them, but maybe supports their family, what happens to them?” the 64-year-old housing advocate asked the senator.

“What happens to all of those people who lose their jobs?” Motl asked in a later interview.

Warren reassured her that jobs would not be lost because of her plan. But the exchange is a reminder that while railing against the insurance industry can score points with the progressive Democratic base, it can also alienate potential supporters in Iowa, where voters will usher in the presidential primary in less than two months.

Nearly 17,000 Iowans are either directly employed by health insurance companies or employed in related jobs, according to data collected by America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry advocacy group. Des Moines, the seat of the state’s most Democratic county, is known as one of America’s insurance capitals partly because of the high number of health insurance companies and jobs in the metro area. Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield’s health insurance headquarters employs roughly 1,700 in the metro area, and that’s just one of the 16 health insurance companies domiciled in Iowa, according to the Iowa Insurance Division.

For many Iowans, the Medicare for All debate is personal, and the prospect of losing a job could influence whom they support in the Feb. 3 caucuses.

Tamyra Harrison, vice-chair of the East Polk Democrats, says she has heard worries at her local Democratic meetings about “the effect it would have on people that work in the insurance industry, and those that have small businesses in the area.”

“They’re concerned about the repercussions on people living here that maybe the Democrats aren’t thinking of” when they’re talking about eliminating private insurance, she said.

The Democrats’ health care plans vary widely in terms of the speed and scope with which they would affect health care industry jobs, but experts say every plan marks a substantial reconfiguring of one of the country’s biggest industries and thus all would affect thousands of jobs nationwide.