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Democrats split on 'Medicare for All,' but agree on coverage for undocumented immigrants

Daily Briefing

    Health care again was a major focus in last night's primary debate for candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

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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 a primary debate held Wednesday night, and 10 participating in Thursday night's debate.

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

    • Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.);
    • Former Vice President Joe Biden;
    • Pete Buttigieg (D), mayor of South Bend, Indiana;
    • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.);
    • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.);
    • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D);
    • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.);
    • Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.);
    • Marianne Williamson, an author and lecturer; and
    • Andrew Yang, an author and entrepreneur.

    Health care in the spotlight

    Similar to Wednesday night's debate, Thursday's debate touched on various health care issues, with a question regarding so-called "Medicare-for-All" proposals highlighting a division in the candidates' stances.

    When the candidates were asked to raise their hands if they support abolishing private health insurance to implement a government-run Medicare-for-All plan, only two candidates—Harris and Sanders—raised their hands.

    According to PolitiFact/KHN, Sanders opened the debate saying health care is a "human right," adding that the United States must implement a single-payer health system.

    However, others touted different approaches to expanding U.S. residents' access to health insurance. For instance, Biden said policymakers should "build on" the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to make sure U.S. residents "have insurance that is covered, and that they can afford," instead of implementing a single-payer health system. Biden also said he would opposed any Republican or Democrat who works to dismantle the ACA.

    Bennet, Buttigieg, and Gillibrand said the United States should strive toward universal coverage, but expressed support for implementing a so-called "public option" health plan instead of eliminating private coverage all at once.

    Gillibrand said, "I believe we need to get to universal health care as a right, not a privilege, to single payer. The quickest way you get there is you create competition with the insurer."

    Hickenlooper touted his experience with achieving "near universal coverage" in Colorado. "You don't need big government to do big things. I know that because I'm the one person up here who's actually done the big progressive things everyone else is talking about," he said.

    Candidates aligned on coverage for undocumented immigrants

    One health care issue on which all of the candidates agreed was on expanded access to coverage for undocumented immigrants. According to The Hill, each of the 10 candidates who participated in last night's debate rose their hands when asked if they support extending health coverage to undocumented immigrants.

    Buttigieg said, "Our country is healthier when everybody is healthier. And remember we're talking about something people are given a chance to buy into. In the same way that there are undocumented immigrants in my community who pay—they pay sales taxes, they pay property taxes, directly or indirectly—this is not about a hand out. This is an insurance program and we do no favors by having 11 million undocumented people in our country be unable to access health care."

    Biden said allowing undocumented immigrants to participate in a public health program could help to bring down the country's health care costs. For example, he said undocumented immigrants' contributions to the United States' Social Security funds has helped to lengthen the fund's longevity. "They would do the same thing in terms of reducing the overall cost of health care by them being able to be treated and not wait until they're in extremis," Biden said.

    According to Reuters, President Trump, who did not participate in the debate, in a tweet posted Thursday criticized the candidates for supporting expanding health coverage to undocumented immigrants. "All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited health care. How about taking care of American Citizens first!?" he wrote (Luthra, PolitiFact/Kaiser Health News, 6/27; Stein/Abutaleb, Washington Post, 6/28; Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 6/28; Weixel, The Hill, 6/27; Hellmann, The Hill, 6/27; Bolton, The Hill, 6/27).

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