Trump on single-payer, Kasich on Medicaid, and more: Four top moments from the GOP debate

Candidates discussed Medicaid expansion, the VA health system

Josh Zeitlin, Associate Editor

On Thursday night, Fox News hosted the first official primetime debate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, featuring the 10 candidates who ranked highest in recent national polls.

While the actual state primaries are still months away—even the Iowa Caucus is still more than 150 days away—last night was an important opportunity for many candidates to make a first impression on voters, especially because it was the first time that some Americans began to really pay attention to their platforms.

Why presidential debates are worth watching—even in August 2015

Topics like national security and the economy tended to dominate the two-hour debate, but health care issues did come up throughout the night, too. Here are four of the top health care moments from the debate.

1. Trump on single-payer and the ACA

The moderators asked businessman Donald Trump—who is leading in many of the polls for the GOP nomination—about his past comments praising the Canadian single-payer health care system and calling himself a "liberal" on health care.

Trump didn't back away from the idea that a single-payer system could work. "It works in Canada," he said. "It works incredibly well in Scotland. It could have worked [in the United States] in a different age."

But, Trump said that in America he would want a private health care system, and implied that if elected he would seek to end regulations that prohibit insurance companies from selling plans across state lines without an agreement between states. And he said the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—which he called "a complete disaster"—should be repealed and replaced.

2. Kasich on Medicaid and substance misuse

Ohio Gov. John Kasich was asked about his decision to expand Medicaid through the ACA. (Kasich is one of two candidates in the field, along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to have done so.)

Kasich responded by citing past precedent among Republicans—"President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times," he noted— but also defended the decision to expand by adopting a stance that's less typical of Republican candidates.

Specifically, Kasich said that expanding the program allowed Ohio to have more resources to help fight substance misuse, to treat individuals with mental health issues, and to reduce recidivism rates. And he said that making sure "the working poor" have health care through Medicaid helps keep ED use down and makes sure low-income individuals can "get on their feet."

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From the Weekly Briefing: Do the debates even matter?

On this week's episode of the Weekly Briefing, our experts debated whether it was too early for health care leaders to pay attention to the presidential race. (You can skip to the 17:30 mark of the recording to listen to discussion of the presidential campaign.) 

Subscribe on iTunes | Get the RSS feed

3. Rubio on the VA health system

Responding to a question about honoring veterans, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio blasted the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for only firing one person after the major 2014 scandal involving VA wait times.

He said that if he were president, the VA would care "more about our veterans than about the bureaucrats who work at the VA."

4. Carson on neurosurgery

Ben Carson, the former head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, touted his experience as a doctor in his closing statement.

Carson said he was the only person on stage "to operate on babies while they were still in mother’s womb" and "to separate Siamese twins." (Carson received worldwide recognition in 1987 for being the first neurosurgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the skull.)

And Carson joked that he was "the only one to take out half of a brain, although you would think, if you go to Washington, that someone had beat me to it."

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