Tensions were high as 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls took the stage over two nights to debate some of the biggest issues faced by the United States. While the first round of Democratic debates in June laid the groundwork for each candidate’s platform, the candidates dove deeper into each issue during this round, sometimes having heated exchanges. The first topic of each debate was something on the minds of most Americans: healthcare.
Jake Tapper, Chief Washington Correspondent for CNN, directed the first question to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). He asked Sanders to respond to former Representative John Delaney’s (D-NJ) assertion that Medicare for All is “bad policy” and “political suicide that will just get President Trump reelected.”
Sanders responded with a curt, “You’re wrong,” which was immediately followed by laughter and applause from the audience. “Five minutes away from me… is Canada,” he continued. “They guarantee healthcare to every man, woman, and child as a human right. They spend half of what we spend, and by the way, when you end up in a hospital in Canada, you come out with no bill at all. Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege, I believe that, I will fight for that.”
Delaney has been in strong opposition to Medicare for All, claiming it will take away private, employer-sponsored healthcare from 160 million Americans who are fond of their plans. He countered Sanders: “We can create a universal healthcare system to give everyone basic healthcare for free, and I have a proposal to do it. But we don’t have to go around and be the party of subtraction, and telling half the country, who has private health insurance, that their health insurance is illegal.”
Tapper then directed the question to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a supporter of Medicare for All, who countered Delaney’s argument. “Let’s be clear about this,” she said. “We are the Democrats. We are not trying to take away healthcare from anyone. That’s what Republicans are trying to do.”
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg attempted to find a middle ground: “We don’t have to stand up here speculating about whether the public option will be better or a Medicare for All environment will be better than the corporate options. We can put it to the test.”
“That’s the concept of my ‘Medicare for All Who Want It’ proposal,” he continued. “That way, if people like me are right that the public alternative is going to be not only more comprehensive, but more affordable than any of the corporate options around there, we’ll see Americans walk away from the corporate options into that Medicare option, and it will become Medicare for All without us having to kick anybody off their insurance.”
After an impassioned back-and-forth between Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Sanders in which Sanders shouted at Ryan that he “wrote the damn [Medicare for All] bill,” the moderators shifted the topic to immigration.
Chief Political Correspondent for CNN, Dana Bash, kicked off the questioning for the second night of debates. The first question was directed at Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).
Harris released a 10-year plan to gradually transition the country into a Medicare for All system which would preserve private insurance similar to Medicare Advantage plans. Former Vice President Joe Biden called this a “have-it-every-which-way approach” in the press preceding the debate.
When asked to respond to this, Harris said, “I have been spending time in this campaign listening to American families, listening to experts, listening to healthcare providers, and what I came away with is a very clear understanding… that insurance companies have been jacking up the prices for far too long, that American families have to be held down by deductibles and copays and premiums that can cause them bankruptcy.”
Biden responded, “If you noticed, there is no talk about the fact that the plan in 10 years will cost $3 trillion. You will lose your employer-based insurance.”
Harris defended the price tag of her plan: “First of all, the cost of doing nothing is far too expensive. Second, we are now paying $3 trillion a year for healthcare in America. Over the next 10 years, it’s probably going to be $6 trillion. We must act.”
The question was then directed to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “There’s this mythology that somehow all of these folks are in love with their insurance in America. What I hear from union members and from hard-working, middle-class people is they wish they had better insurance and they’re angry at private insurance companies that skim all the profits off the top and make it impossible for everyday people to get coverage like mental care, dental care, the things that would be full coverage for all Americans [under Medicare for All].”
Jake Tapper then looped Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) into the conversation.
“I believe we should finish the job we started with the Affordable Care Act with a public option that gives everybody in this audience the chance to pick for their family, whether they want private insurance or public insurance,” he said.
Bennet continued, “It doesn’t make sense for us to take away insurance from half the people in this room and–and put huge taxes on almost everybody in this room when we pass a public option. Trust the American people to make the right decision, and have universal healthcare in this country in two years, not 10 years.”
The spotlight then shifted to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro who said, “I want to strengthen Medicare for the people who are on it and then expand it to anybody who wants it. I also believe, though, that if somebody has a private health insurance plan that is strong and they want to hold on to that they should be able to do that.”
After another exchange between Harris and Biden, the topic once again shifted to immigration.
What comes next?
Many Medicare reform options are on the table heading into this presidential election season. Some candidates want to build on the Affordable Care Act, some want to create a public option in which Americans of any age can purchase a Medicare plan, and others want to do away with the private health insurance companies altogether.
Should a Democrat win the White House in 2020, win back the Senate, and maintain a majority in the House of Representatives–healthcare as the American people know it is sure to change.
The next Democratic debates will be held on September 12 and 13 in Houston, where the pool of candidates is expected to be cut in half.