Anyone needing yet more proof that health care remains an explosive issue in American politics found it this week in two nights of debates among a field of 20 hopefuls for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Both Tuesday and Wednesday nights’ debates showed a divide between progressives who favor some form of Medicare for all, and more moderate candidates, who want to expand on the ACA.
The ACA became law under former President Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, is the most prominent candidate saying that the answer to health care’s woes would be to expand Obamacare. At Wednesday night’s debate, he and Sen. Kamala Harris—who favors Medicare for all—sparred over which is the best approach. Harris’s plan would include a public option and a 10-year expansion to Medicare for all.
As Kaiser Health News (KHN) reports, “Biden quickly hit back, saying that when someone promises something in 10 years, you have to wonder why it will take so long. He reiterated his support for the Affordable Care Act, saying it is working and the best way forward is to ‘build on what’s working.’”
Health care took up almost a quarter of the 90-minute debate on Wednesdat, with other candidates weighing in on proposals. “At times the back and forth was fast and furious, and it seemed even the candidates were lost in the numbers they were firing across the stage,” KHN reports.
Health care also occupied a lot of space at Tuesday night’s debate. As the New York Times reports, the very first question concerned health care and the ensuing back-and-forth drew in all of the candidates on stage.
“Suddenly, members of the party that had been all about protecting and expanding health care coverage were leveling accusations before a national audience at some of their own—in particular, that they wanted to take it away,” the Times reports.
Among Tuesday night’s field, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are among those who want to do away with the current system entirely and replace it with Medicare for all.
Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio was one of those challenging Sanders and Warren, with Ryan charging that Sanders’s plan would strip some union members of health benefits.
Sanders denied this, firing back: “I wrote the damn bill!”
The Times reported that “Republicans watching the debate may well have been smiling; the infighting about taking away people’s ability to choose their health care plan and spending too much on a pipe-dream plan played into some of President Trump’s favorite talking points.”