June 27, 2019

Democrats' big split in last night's debate: Whether to 'abolish' private insurers

Daily Briefing

    The first batch of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates squared off in a primary debate Wednesday night, and a question regarding so-called "Medicare-for-All" proposals emerged as a dividing factor between the candidates.

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    Details on the debate

    There currently are 25 candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and 20 of them met the Democratic National Committee's criteria to participate in the first primary debate. The candidates were split in half, with 10 candidates participating in Wednesday night's debate, and 10 scheduled to participate in a debate that will air at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday.

    The candidates who participated in Wednesday night's debate were:

    • New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio (D);
    • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.);
    • Former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro;
    • Former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.);
    • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii);
    • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D);
    • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.);
    • Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas);
    • Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio); and
    • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Wash.).

    Question highlights candidates' divisions on Medicare for All

    Wednesday night's debate touched on several health care issues. For instance, Booker and Warren singled out pharmaceutical companies and health insurers when discussing rising health care prices, and Klobuchar stated that many U.S. residents struggle to afford health insurance premiums.

    However, a question regarding Medicare for All proposals showed a stark division in the candidates' stances. The candidates were asked to raise their hands if they supported eliminating private health insurance plans to instead implement a government-sponsored Medicare-for-All plan. Specifically, the moderator  asked, "Who here would abolish their private health insurance in favor of a government run plan?"

    Only De Blasio and Warren raised their hands, PolitiFact/KHN reports.

    Warren said the United States' current private health insurance system "leaves families with rising premiums, rising [copayments], and fighting with insurance companies to try to get the health care that their doctors say that they and their children need." She added, "Medicare for All solves that problem."

    De Blasio also said the current system "is not working for people."

    But Klobuchar, who has criticized Medicare-for-All plans that would eliminate private coverage, expressed concerns about "kicking … half of America off their health insurance in four years" to implement a Medicare-for-all system.

    O'Rourke, who has expressed similar concerns, indicated support for his proposal to create a so-called "public option" health plan instead of completely eliminating private coverage.

    According to Vox, Booker also has expressed support for implementing a public option, and during the debate said he would act quickly to expand U.S. residents' access to health care. "We have to do the things immediately that provide better care," he said, adding, "We can do this better, and every single day I will fight to give people more access and affordable cost until we get to every American having health care."

    Delaney said policymakers should "kee[p] what's working and fi[x] what's broken." He explained, "We should give everyone in this country health care as a basis human right for free. Full stop. But we should also give them the option to buy private insurance" (Luthra/Greenberg, PolitiFact/Kaiser Health News, 6/27; Scott, Vox, 6/26; Law, TIME, 6/26).

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