Is Hillary Clinton really moving to the left on healthcare, as the NY Times and many others have asserted, pushed by continued pressure from Bernie Sanders to endorse the public option? It is a strange claim. First of all, her campaign’s explicit support of the Public Option goes back to at least February, when her site was updated with language backing it, and which seems essentially identical to the language the campaign uses today. She hasn’t moved left in the last three months due to the lingering strength of the Sanders campaign.
Has she changed at all from previous years? There isn’t any indication of that, either. If anything, her plans today are scaled back from her 2008 presidential campaign, in which the public option, based on Medicare, figured prominently.
Her support of the public option in 2016 is cautious, burned by past failures and acutely conscious of the need for a sympathetic Congress to pass meaningful legislation. She does not say today that she would seek new legislation to enable a public option, leaving it implicit that with a Democratic congress she would test the waters and jump if the opportunity arises. Instead, what she does promise is that she will “work with interested governors, using current flexibility under the Affordable Care Act, to empower states to establish a public option choice.” In other words, leave it up to the states to decide under existing law. So a state like Vermont would be likely to adopt it, but a state like Alabama wouldn’t. In other words, the states that would benefit most would be least likely to take advantage of the opportunity, if history is any guide.
This does not sound like a move to the left under pressure, but an acknowledgement of desires long present. This is a more subdued, perhaps wiser, expression of the ideal of universal coverage within the the constraints of political reality, and Bernie has little or nothing to do with it.