Sanders draws line as 2020 health care battle heats up

Sanders draws line as 2020 health care battle heats up
© Aaron Schwartz

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Castro hits fundraising threshold for December debate Buttigieg draws fresh scrutiny, attacks in sprint to Iowa MORE (I-Vt.) gave a fiery speech in defense of his “Medicare for All” plan on Wednesday, escalating the fight between himself and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Castro hits fundraising threshold for December debate Buttigieg draws fresh scrutiny, attacks in sprint to Iowa MORE on a key policy issue that divides grass-roots liberals and centrist Democrats. 

Sanders demanded that his rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination reject campaign contributions from health insurance and drug companies, which was seen as a swipe at Biden, who has held large-dollar fundraisers with wealthy contributors from the health care industry.

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“Now is not the time for tinkering around the edges, and now is not the time for taking money and large campaign contributions from the insurance companies and drug companies,” Sanders said to a small, friendly crowd at George Washington University in the nation’s capital. 

Sanders’s speech comes amid an intensifying clash between the top 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls over the way forward for the party on health care.

Democrats took over the House in 2018 in part by pledging to protect the Affordable Care Act, more widely known as ObamaCare, but has now found itself deeply divided over how far to go in remaking the country’s health care system.

While Sanders’s Medicare for All plan has been embraced by other top presidential candidates, such as Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisCastro hits fundraising threshold for December debate Poll: Majority of voters name TV as primary news source Buttigieg: Harris 'deserves to be under anybody's consideration' for vice president MORE (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Castro hits fundraising threshold for December debate Buttigieg: Harris 'deserves to be under anybody's consideration' for vice president MORE (D-Mass.), Biden, the front-runner in the race, has said it will hurt seniors and repeal ObamaCare. 

Biden rankled Sanders and his supporters on Monday when he told an audience of seniors at an AARP event that under Medicare for All, “Medicare goes away as you know it. All the Medicare you have is gone.”

Sanders appeared to respond to Biden’s comments Wednesday, saying: “Despite what you’re hearing about Medicare for seniors being weakened, the truth is exactly the opposite. It will be strengthened by providing benefits to seniors that they today don’t have.” 

Sanders's plan would provide dental and vision benefits to seniors, which isn't currently covered by the Medicare program. 

Before Sanders’s speech, his campaign tweeted a video accusing Biden of “lying about Medicare for All.” 

“We won’t mention his name, but it might be a former vice president of the United States,” Sanders said in the video. 

“Look, I think it’s important that we have a health care debate on the facts and not on fear-mongering.”

Biden said this week that he understands the “appeal” of Medicare for All, but that implementing it would mean “getting rid of Obamacare.”

“I knew the Republicans would do everything in their power to try and repeal ObamaCare,” he said. “But I’m surprised that so many Democrats are running on getting rid of it. I know how hard it was to get passed. Starting over just makes no sense to me.”

Sanders fired back, saying he fought to pass ObamaCare and traveled all over the country to defend it.

“But I will not be deterred from ending the corporate greed that creates dysfunction in our health care system,” Sanders said. “We must pass Medicare for All.”

ObamaCare has become more popular since it was signed into law in 2011. Biden’s own health care plan, released this week, would build on ObamaCare’s framework while adding a new public option and beefing up the tax credits that help people buy insurance.

Some centrist Democrats have warned that the party will face steep losses in 2020 if their candidate runs on Medicare for All, which does not have broad support among the general public.

In addition to Biden, several other moderate Democratic contenders — Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSenators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates Democrats hit gas on impeachment MORE (Colo.), former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Impeachment enters new crucial phase Bullock drops White House bid, won't run for Senate 2020 hopes rise for gun control groups after Virginia elections MORE and former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyKrystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates 2020 Democrats thank Harris for friendship, candidacy after senator drops out Democrats take in lobbying industry cash despite pledges MORE (Md.) — have warned that Medicare for All will be viewed as government overreach and a gift to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments MORE as he seeks to cast Democrats as socialists.

“Colorado would be at risk if Bernie Sanders is the nominee," Bennet said in Iowa this week. "[Medicare for All is] a tough burden to carry in a state like Colorado.”

Opponents of Medicare for All also point to its massive price tag: $32 trillion over 10 years, according to one study.

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Sanders has pushed back, pointing to recent public opinion surveys that show a single-payer system rising in popularity. While taxes would increase, he says, Americans would no longer have to pay the costs associated with health insurance, including copays and deductibles.

“Study after study shows Medicare for All would be more cost effective,” Sanders said Wednesday.

The general sense from health care experts is that Medicare for All polls well on its own, but support drops when people are told that it would eliminate private insurance and result in increased taxes. 

Still, there is enormous energy on the left for Medicare for All, and Sanders is betting that drawing contrasts between himself and Biden on the issue will give him a boost with the progressive base.

The Vermont senator has pointed to former President Obama’s past praise for Medicare for All to make the case that it’s time for all Democrats to rally behind it.

Sanders is chasing Biden, who leads in most public opinion surveys, even as he seeks to beat back challenges from Harris and Warren, who have been rising in the polls.

Both Warren and Harris have said they support Medicare for All, although Harris has been unclear on whether she supports higher taxes or eliminating private health insurers altogether, as Sanders’s plan does.

Sanders on Wednesday called on all of his rivals to unequivocally back his plan.

“The time is now to go forward,” Sanders said. “The time is now to expand Medicare to every man, woman and child in this country.”