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Sanders' Support Grows In Texas, But Democrats Are Split On Plan To Ditch Private Health Insurance

Bernie Sanders speaks to the audience at the She the People Presidential Forum at Texas Southern University last year.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Bernie Sanders speaks to the audience at the She the People Presidential Forum at Texas Southern University last year.

Health care remains a top concern for voters in Texas, but they are split on whether to completely upend the country’s current health care system, a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll finds.

According to the poll, about a fifth of Texas Democrats who support a government-run health care program don’t support a plan that would eliminate private health insurance.

“There’s not a consensus there,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and executive director of the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin. “And we are seeing that lack of consensus play out in the Democratic presidential nomination fight.”

One of the marquee proposals from Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is slightly leading in polls ahead of the March 3 Democratic presidential primary in Texas, is a system that would mostly eliminate all private health plans and replace them with government-run plans. The plan, known as Medicare for All, has been preferred by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is polling third in the state.

Moderates in the party have embraced a system known as a public option, which would allow people to keep their private health insurance plan if they want to.

This lack of consensus was also on display during Tuesday's debate among Democrats running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican John Cornyn.

During the debate, current frontrunner MJ Hegar said she would not support Medicare for All. Meanwhile, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who is second in the polls and running as one of the more progressive candidates, said she “proudly” supports Sanders’ plan.

Despite divisions on how to fix the country’s health care system, though, many Texans agree health care is an important issue.

The UT/TT poll surveyed 1,200 registered Texas voters about what they think the biggest issues facing the country are. Political corruption and leadership (16%) topped the responses, followed by heath care (10%).

Pollsters also asked Texas voters whether they think the country’s health insurance system should be replaced by a system run by the government, which includes universal health care.

“Overall we found Texans fairly evenly divided,” Henson said, “with the expected partisan structure there.”

According to the poll, 46% of Texans polled "said they preferred the current system, and 41% said they would prefer a universal program financed by taxpayers.”

When broken down by party, about 76% of Republicans said they preferred the current system. Among Democrats, though, 70% said they want a universal health care system.

Henson said the survey followed up with those who said they prefer a universal system and asked if they would still support it if it “did away with the option of private health insurance.”

According to pollsters, “67% said they would back the system even if it eliminated private health insurance, compared with 18% who said they would oppose” a plan that eliminated private health plans.

“And that’s where we saw the division really come out,” Henson said. “And the problematic context for Democrats [is] that about a fifth of Democrats oppose doing away with private health insurance.”

Got a tip? Email Ashley Lopez at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.

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Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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