WASHINGTON -- Sharp disagreements among the presidential hopefuls at this week's debates have crystallized a crucial and explosive political question: Are Democrats willing to upend health coverage for tens of millions of their fellow Americans?
The party is closer than it's been in decades to embracing a healthcare platform that would move all Americans out of their current insurance and into a single government-run plan.
Plans pushed by three of the four leading candidates -- Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California -- differ in their particulars but would all end the job-based system that provides coverage to more than 150 million people.
That's a hugely risky strategy, as more-centrist rivals reminded the three senators during the two nights of heated, sometimes confusing, debates.
Sweeping healthcare plans have never fared well in American politics.
For decades, voters repeatedly have punished presidents and Congresses -- Democratic and Republican alike -- who have threatened to take away existing health plans, no matter how flawed.
Just last year, the GOP suffered historic losses in the House of Representatives after the party's unsuccessful effort to roll back the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
But at a time when rising insurance deductibles and medical bills are crippling growing numbers of American families, many Democrats on the party's left believe public discontent with the current system has changed that dynamic.
"It's time that we separate employers from the kind of healthcare people get," Harris said Wednesday night, acknowledging that her "Medicare-for-all" plan would, after a lengthy phase-in period, end job-based insurance.
Harris, Sanders and Warren have made Medicare-for-all a central plank of their campaigns, riding a wave of discontent over rising medical costs to call for a historic expansion of government insurance.