Healthcare tangles in Democratic White House race could carry risk in 2020, polls show

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - A trio of polls released ahead of Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate showed a majority of Americans support Medicare for All, but offered conflicting signals about whether the proposed healthcare overhaul could hurt the party in the November 2020 general election.

As with the previous four debates, Wednesday's televised clash in Atlanta is likely to be dominated by the intra-party battle over how best to expand healthcare coverage to millions of Americans.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has emerged as a top contender to challenge Republican President Donald Trump, has faced criticism from moderate rivals including former Vice President Joe Biden over her Medicare for All proposal, which would eventually eliminate most private insurance in favor of a government-run plan.

In polling data made public on Wednesday, the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found 53% of Americans favored Medicare for All.

However, two-thirds approved of a "public option" plan like that proposed by Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and other moderate candidates, which would offer a government plan to compete with private insurance rather than replace it.

The nonprofit Progressive Change Institute, whose political arm, the Progressive Change Campaign Coalition (PCCC), has endorsed Warren, released its own poll on Tuesday showing that 66% of registered voters nationally - and 63% in political battleground states - support Medicare for All.

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Scenes from the October Democratic debate in Ohio
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), billionaire Tom Steyer, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former tech executive Andrew Yang, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and former housing secretary Julian Castro at the strart of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., left, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Vice President Joe Biden, right, participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, left, talks with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., during a break in the Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, left, and businessman Tom Steyer participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Members of the media watch the Democratic presidential primary debate from the media center hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15th, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, hugs former Vice President Joe Biden in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., talk during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate former Housing Secretary Julian Castro speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate businessman Tom Steyer participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke participates in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential hopefuls California Senator Kamala Harris (L) greets Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., from left, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, listens as former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden raise their hands during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to the press in the spin room during the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful New Jersey Senator Cory Booker speaks to the press in the spin room during the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
US actress Rosario Dawson arrives the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
US actress Rosario Dawson (L) and boyfriend Democratic presidential hopeful New Jersey Senator Cory Booker pose for pictures in the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful businessman Tom Steyer speaks to the press in the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) walks the Spin Room after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful former Texas representative Beto O'Rourke smiles in the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) enters the Spin Room with his girlfriend Rosario Dawson after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Former tech executive Andrew Yang walks through the Spin Room after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) enters the Spin Room after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Volunteers hold signs with candidates' names in the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) interact during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks to the press in the spin room after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: The audience watches the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg are introduced before the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke looks on during a break at the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Rosario Dawson enters the Spin Room after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks to the press after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful former US Vice President Joe Biden takes a selfie with supporters after the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden shake hands after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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The dueling data reflects the extent to which many Americans are still fuzzy on Medicare for All's details, some strategists said.

Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in 2018 powered by victories in moderate districts that were largely credited to the party's disciplined messaging on healthcare. Democratic candidates focused on Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, thereby eliminating protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

That contrast has largely faded from the presidential campaign trail, overshadowed by an extended back-and-forth over Medicare for All and its feasibility.

Warren was attacked at the last debate for refusing to say whether her proposal would raise middle-class taxes. She has since issued a detailed plan asserting the overhaul can be paid for by taxing corporations and the wealthy alone while driving down costs. Her rivals have responded by saying that her assumptions are unrealistic.

"It's a little bit of a mystery to me why Democrats want to carve themselves up over health care, an issue they have a big advantage on," said Drew Altman, president and chief executive of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Some party leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have warned that the focus on Medicare for All could cost Democrats with swing voters next year.

A separate Kaiser survey released on Tuesday of voters in the presidential battleground states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota found that more than 60% of swing voters view eliminating private insurance as a bad idea.

PCCC co-founder Adam Green argued that the public option polls better because voters have heard about it for a decade. Green said the ongoing debate over Medicare for All is a route to build broader support. 

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