Bernie Sanders Exposes Ted Cruz, GOP in Healthcare Debate
Late Tuesday night, CNN hosted a debate between Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) focusing specifically on healthcare and the future of the Affordable Care Act. The two former presidential candidates largely steered clear of hyperbole and stuck to facts, even conceding points to the other occasionally. However, there was one moment where Senator Sanders leapt on Cruz and started swinging. It didn’t last long, but it drove a truck straight through the Republican plan to replace Obamacare.
Sanders began by asking Cruz if he felt healthcare was a right guaranteed to all Americans. To avoid answering, Cruz went on some silly spiel about the Bill of Rights, quoted the Declaration of Independence, then finally proceeded to say “So what is a right is access to health care.”
At that moment, Sanders nearly lost his cool. Per CNN’s transcript, here’s how it went down from there:
SANDERS: For a start…
CRUZ: You’re denying her what you say is her right.
SANDERS: Well, two things. You didn’t answer the question, although I interpret your question to be that LaRonda does not have a right.
CRUZ: No, that’s not what I said.
SANDERS: Woah, woah, I heard the Bill of Rights.
CRUZ: What I said is access to health care. Access to health care is a right.
SANDERS: She has access. But she doesn’t have enough money.
CRUZ: And choosing your doctor is a right.
SANDERS: Look, LaRonda, you have access right now. Go out and get a really great health insurance program. Oh, you can’t do it? Because you can’t afford it. All right? That’s what he’s saying. Access to what? You want to buy one of Donald Trump’s mansions? You have access to do that, as well. Oh, you can’t afford $5 million for a house? Sorry. Access doesn’t mean a damn thing. What it means is whether people can afford it, can get the health care that they need.
Sanders has jumped on this point before, going after Donald Trump’s pick for the Department of Health and Human Services, Representative Tom Price (R-GA):
It might seem like a small point, but in the grand scheme of things it becomes exactly the situation Sanders is talking about. We all have access to go buy our own mansion, but if we don’t have the funds the “access” to doing so is pretty meaningless. The GOP had hoped this little difference would go undetected, but Sanders has refused to allow that.
Republicans like to say that under their replacement plan, people with pre-existing conditions will have access to healthcare. But as we’ve seen, “access” is pretty meaningless. The question is whether or not the coverage will be affordable and the only way to do that with pre-existing conditions is the individual mandate. Without it, people with pre-existing conditions are thrown into high-risk pools or charged so much per month there is no possible way they could afford the premiums.
(The Washington Post has a great write-up on that issue here.)
So perhaps the Republican replacement makes it illegal to turn away those with pre-existing conditions but it does nothing to help subsidize those plans or otherwise bring down costs. Therefore, to avoid covering those with conditions like cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or even pregnancy, all insurance companies would have to do is charge premiums outside the middle class’s price range. And practically speaking, it makes the most sense for their bottom line as those people are the most expensive to cover.
It’s a neat trick, really. The GOP can then claim universal “access” without technically being liars.
The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect and I don’t believe anyone has ever argued otherwise. It doesn’t go far enough and there are too many still hurting. That does not mean the ACA isn’t an important step forward or that we can afford to go back to the way it was before. It simply means there are ways it can be fixed and it’s time to have the discussion with that in mind.
After all, you don’t junk the entire car because it needs new tires, do you?