On Wednesday night's Democratic debate, the candidates held a spirited discussion of universal health care — and while some candidates differed on the way to bring it about, everyone broadly accepted the principle that health care should be a fundamental right.
"I studied why families go broke," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). "One of the number one reasons is the cost of health care and medical bills ... Look at the business model of an insurance company. It's to bring in as many dollars as they can with premiums and pay out as few as possible for your health care. That leaves families with rising premiums, rising copays and fighting with insurance companies to try get the health care that their doctors say they and their children need. Medicare for all solves that problem. I understand, there are a lot of politicians who say it's not just possible, we can't do it, we have a lot of political reasons for this. They are really telling you they won't fight for it. Health care is a basic human right and I will fight for basic human rights."
"My goal is to ensure that every American is well enough to live to their full potential because they have health care," said former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), telling the story of a man from Laredo who went to the doctor only once in his life, and was told he'd be dead before 40. "In Texas, the single largest provider of mental health care is the county jail. Health care has to mean every woman can make decisions about her own body and has access to the care that makes that possible. Our plan said if you are uninsured, we enroll you in Medicare. If you can't afford premiums or are a member of a union who enrolled in a plan because it works, you are able to keep it. We preserve choice."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio promptly criticized O'Rourke for not wanting to abolish private insurance, saying "How can you defend a system that is not working?" But former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) agreed with O'Rourke's approach.
"We should give everyone in this country health care as a basic human right for free. Full stop," said Delaney. "We should also give the option to buy private insurance. Why do we have to stand for taking away something. If you go to every hospital in this country and ask one question, which is how would it have been for you last year if every one of your bills were paid at the Medicare rate? Every report administrator said they would close ... My dad was a union electrician and grew up in a working class family. He loved the health care they gave him. I think about my dad in anything I do from a policy perspective."
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) then weighed in.
"We are talking about the objective of making sure every sick American is able to get the health care they need," said Gabbard. "I believe Medicare for All is the way to do that. I also think that employers will recognize how much money will be saved by supporting a Medicare for All program. A program that will reduce the administrative cost and reduce the bureaucratic costs and make sure everyone gets that quality health care that they need. I also think if you look at other countries in the world who have universal health care, every one of them has a form of a role of private insurance. That's what we have to look at, taking the best of these ideas and making sure that no sick American goes without getting the care they need regardless of how much or little money they have in their pocket."
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) highlighted the cost to communities of rising health care costs.
"We are talking about this as a health care issue, but in communities like mine, low income communities, it's an education issue because kids who don't have health care won't succeed in schools and it's an issue for jobs and employment. You won't succeed at work," said Booker. "In in my community, African-Americans have a lower life expectancy. It's not just a human right, but an American right and the best way to get there is Medicare for All, but I have an urgency about this. When I am president of the United States, I am not going to wait ... Too many people are profiting off of the pain of people in America from pharmaceutical companies to insurers."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) spoke of the importance of protecting women's abortion rights in any health care policy — and outlined how she would seek to get America to universal coverage, based on her political experiences.
"I want to say there are three women up here who fought pretty hard for a woman's right to choose. I will start with that," she said. "I want to make very clear. We share the goal of universal health care and the idea I put out there, the public option ... this idea is that you use Medicare or Medicaid without any insurance companies involved, you can do it either way. The estimates are, 13 million people see a reduction in their premiums. 12 more million people get covered. I think it's a beginning and the way you start and the way you move to universal health care."