Sanders & Warren Fight “Republican Talking Point” That Medicare for All Is About Reducing Coverage

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Ten Democratic presidential candidates took to the stage in Detroit, Michigan, on Tuesday night for the first of a two-night debate hosted by CNN. The debate began with an extended discussion on healthcare, where progressive candidates Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren defended their platforms of Medicare for All against more moderate candidates who argued this stance is political suicide. We speak with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former Michigan gubernatorial candidate.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ten Democratic presidential candidates took to the stage in Detroit, Michigan, Tuesday night for the first of a two-night debate hosted by CNN. The evening was billed as the first showdown between the two leading progressives in the race—Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—but the two never criticized each other and spent much of the evening fending off attacks by a group of moderate rivals, including former Maryland Congressman John Delaney. This is Elizabeth Warren.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Democrats win when we figure out what is right and we get out there and fight for it. I am not afraid. And for Democrats to win, you can’t be afraid, either.

JAKE TAPPER: Congressman Delaney, your response?

JOHN DELANEY: So, I think Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises, when we run on things that are workable, not fairy-tale economics.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: You know, I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for. I don’t get it. Our biggest problem in Washington is corruption. It is giant corporations that have taken our government and that are holding it by the throat. And we need to have the courage to fight back against that. And until we’re ready to do that, it’s just more of the same.

AMY GOODMAN: The first of the two Democratic primary debates began with an extended discussion on healthcare. This is CNN’s Jake Tapper.

JAKE TAPPER: Senator Sanders, let’s start with you. You support Medicare for All, which would eventually take private health insurance away from more than 150 million Americans in exchange for government-sponsored healthcare for everyone. Congressman Delaney just referred to it as “bad policy,” and previously he has called the idea “political suicide that will just get President Trump re-elected.” What do you say to Congressman Delaney?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: You’re wrong. Right now we have a dysfunctional healthcare system—87 million uninsured or underinsured, $500,000—500,000 Americans every year going bankrupt because of medical bills, 30,000 people dying while the healthcare industry makes tens of billions of dollars in profit.

Five minutes away from here, John, is a country. It’s called Canada. They guarantee healthcare to every man, woman and child as a human right. They spend half of what we spend. And by the way, when you end up in a hospital in Canada, you come out with no bill at all. Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege. I believe that. I will fight for that.

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Senator Sanders. Congressman Delaney?

JOHN DELANEY: Well, I’m right about this. We can create a universal healthcare system to give everyone basic healthcare for free, and I have a proposal to do it. But we don’t have to go around and be the party of subtraction and telling half the country, who has private health insurance, that their health insurance is illegal. My dad, the union electrician, loved the healthcare he got from the IBEW. He would never want someone to take that away. Half of Medicare beneficiaries now have Medicare Advantage, which is private insurance, or supplemental plans. It’s also bad policy. It’ll underfund the industry. Many hospitals will close.

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Congressman.

JOHN DELANEY: And it’s bad policy.

JAKE TAPPER: Senator Warren?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: So, look, let’s be clear about this. We are the Democrats. We are not about trying to take away healthcare from anyone. That’s what the Republicans are trying to do. And we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about how to best provide that healthcare.

Now, I want to have a chance to tell the story about my friend Ady Barkan. Ady is 35 years old. He has a wife, Rachael. He has a cute little boy named Carl. He also has ALS, and it’s killing him. Ady has health insurance, good health insurance.

JAKE TAPPER: Senator. …

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: This is somebody who has health insurance and is dying. And every month he has about $9,000 in medical bills that his insurance company won’t cover. His wife Rachael is on the phone for hours and hours and hours, begging the insurance company, “Please cover what the doctors say he needs.” He talks about what it’s like to go online, with thousands of other people, to beg friends, family and strangers for money so he can cover his medical expenses. The basic profit model of an insurance company is take in as much money as you can in premiums and pay out as little as possible in healthcare coverage. That is not working—

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: —for Americans across this country.

JAKE TAPPER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Senator Elizabeth Warren and, before that, former Congressmember Delaney and Bernie Sanders.

We begin today’s show in Michigan, where the first of the two nights of the presidential primary debate are taking place. But we’re going to Ann Arbor to speak with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. He ran for governor in Michigan last year, and in September of 2018 he founded the political action committee Southpaw Michigan to help elect other progressive candidates in Michigan. So, Doctor, they started with healthcare. Your response?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED: That is the place to start. I spent the last 18 months of my life, while I was running, talking to people about the issues that they talk about with their families at the dinner table. And there is no doubt that among folks who are suffering chronic diseases, the kind that most Americans are suffering from, they are frustrated with a private health insurance system that is just not working for them. Instead, it’s working for the CEOs, who are making tens of millions of dollars a year on a system that is intended to squeeze profits out of people who are sick. And that’s just not working. And so, if we don’t have real solutions to that problem, then the question has to be: What are we doing here?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. El-Sayed, in terms of some of the—some of the moderate Democratic candidates kept pointing to the existing private health insurance system that many people were satisfied, especially union-negotiated plans. But the reality is that there are major, major problems, as both Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren said, about the—not only the skimpiness of some of this coverage, but also the complexity, what people have to go through to get their insurance companies to pay, to pay bills.

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED: Yeah. So, you know, there’s this Republican talking point that unfortunately has crept into the mouths of a lot of, quote-unquote, “moderate” Democrats, and it says that progressives want to take away your health insurance. Now, here’s the thing. I love ice cream. And if somebody gave me an extremely soggy cone with, you know, a little bit of vanilla on it and then said, “You know what? Actually, actually, let me take that back, and let me give you a really nice double scoop with all your favorite flavors,” I would be pretty happy about that. Now, in the process, they might take away my ice cream. And that’s exactly what these moderate Democrats are saying.

We have got to remember that this is not about taking away anything. This is about replacing the system that we have, that has been corrupted by a set of corporations who are interested in profiteering off of very sick people, and replacing it with a system that is more akin to almost every other high-income country in the world, that would provide us access to high-quality healthcare, where we could see any doctor we wanted, without having to worry about basic things like these premiums and copays and deductibles and getting on the phone with private insurance bureaucrats to talk about why it is that we should get the care that we already paid for.

This is a responsibility that we have as a society to finally solve this problem. We’ve been trying to do it for the past 70 years. And right now is the time where people are standing up. I am proud to see people like Senator Warren and Senator Sanders, who put this debate on the table, fighting for that issue right now. This is the responsibility we have. It’s not about taking away; it is about replacing with better.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned the candidates taking on Republican talking points. Bernie Sanders talked about CNN doing the same. This is what he said.

JAKE TAPPER: Senator Sanders, then Senator Warren, because you both were mentioned. Senator Sanders?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: As the author of the Medicare bill, let me clear up one thing. As people talk about having insurance, there are millions of people who have insurance, they can’t go to the doctor, and when they come out of the hospital, they go bankrupt. All right? What I am talking about, and others up here are talking about, is no deductibles and no copayments. And, Jake, your question is a Republican talking point. At the end of the day—and by the way—and by the way—by the way, the healthcare industry will be advertising tonight on this program.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Sanders was referring to a question by Jake Tapper about whether the middle class should pay higher taxes in exchange for universal coverage and the elimination of insurance premiums. Dr. El-Sayed, your response?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED: Well, look, you have a situation in our country right now where you have huge corporations that are making billions of dollars every year, who pay zero in their taxes. Now, they want to have the rights of corporations, but they don’t want—of people, excuse me, but they don’t want to have the responsibilities. And what we have to ask ourselves is: What does it look like if an Amazon was to pay the highest tax rate in this country, which is about 37%? They’d be paying $4 billion a year in taxes. Now, if all of those Fortune 500 corporations did the same, they weren’t exploiting these tax loopholes that allow them to move money offshore and then get credit for it, what would it look like in terms of the money that we bring in? I think Senator Warren talked a lot about her wealth tax in some pretty important ways, because that generates the kind of fuel for programs like Medicare for All. This idea that there’s this zero sum, that the middle class is going to have this tax increase, and all of a sudden their healthcare is going to get taken away, these are, unfortunately, Republican talking points.

One more point. I ran on a single-payer plan for Michigan. And what we found is that when you take away those deductibles, those copayments, those out-of-pocket costs from the everyday family, the average family of four, earning $48,000 a year, actually would save $5,000 on the top, because if you’re not having to pay these costs—right?—and instead you’re paying a tax, in fact, you save money, because the whole system becomes more efficient. So when you take those corporate inputs, when they actually have to pay their fair share, and you take the efficiencies gained by a single-payer system, it more than makes up for itself. We’ve got to push back on these talking points and remember that the goal of Democrats has always been to aspire to solve the problems that people face in their lives, through our democracy, through our government. And this is exactly what Medicare for All would do.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion, as well as be joined by other guests. We’re speaking with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former candidate in Michigan’s Democratic gubernatorial primary election. In 2018, he founded the political action committee Southpaw Michigan to help elect other progressive candidates in Michigan. We’re talking about the Democratic presidential primary debate. The next one is tonight. We’ll be covering that tomorrow. Stay with us.

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