Sanders and Cruz Debate The Future of Healthcare
Corey Uhden, Politics Contributor
CNN advertised their debate between Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as a discussion on “The Future of Obamacare” but they might as well have called it “Firing Line,” harkening back to the vigorous, substantive debates William F. Buckley used to host. To their credit, Sanders and Cruz kept the discussion civil and focused on their principles, which couldn’t differ more.
The debate was merely a microcosm of the broader ideological civil war between conservatism and progressivism. Sanders, who has never shied away from his steadfast support for so-called “democratic socialism,” insisted healthcare is a fundamental human right. From this flows all of Sanders’s principles for healthcare and economics: government has to provide for everyone, those that can afford to have to pay, and anything else is inhumane or uncivilized. It’s literally Marxism: from each according to his means to each according to his needs. Cruz, on the other hand, came prepared with facts to pierce the veil of this utopian vision. Cruz began by emphasizing the key difference: healthcare is the most personal political issue and it is not a right (and lectured Sanders on the important distinction between negative rights, like those in our Bill of Rights, and positive rights, like healthcare or, say, slavery.) He argued it is not effective to vest all power over personal decisions in the government.
Rationing was the word of the night. Cruz began several answers by noting the statistics on long wait times, personal anecdotes, and the evidence from around the world that the United States has a better healthcare system than most. This debate transcript will have to be annotated. His point: everywhere in the world that has socialized medicine rations care, especially to the elderly. Sanders retort is that the United States rations care too, through an insurance market. That discussion was prompted by the first question from the audience, a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer, who asked if a replacement plan would include guaranteed coverage regardless of preexisting conditions. Cruz explained that “virtually every plan” proposed by Republicans did. Sanders rebutted but offered no concrete evidence to the contrary. This was one of the only times he defended Obamacare as is, instead of pivoting to his lifelong support for a “Medicare for all” single-payer system. He accepted the framing that including guaranteed coverage regardless of preexisting conditions was a “government mandate...and a damn good one.”
When another mandate was raised, however, this time by a small business owner in Texas complaining that she could not possibly provide health insurance for her employees, Sanders was incredulous and accused her of being greedy. If the audience was with Sanders up to this point, the dials must have turned down. For all the compassion he evinced in promising that a nearly $2.5 trillion government-run healthcare system would take care of everyone’s needs, he couldn’t demur himself for one second from the results of the employer mandate. As Cruz later pointed out, quoting Margaret Thatcher, “the problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money.” Obamacare, or Medicare for All, or expanding Medicaid relies on revenue, enormous amounts of new revenue. The Affordable Care Act’s attempt to skirt around the issue is a requirement for employers with more than 50 employees that work thirty hours a week, a new definition for full-time, to provide them with health insurance. That doesn’t comport with millions of business plans and Sanders just doesn’t care.
Prescription drugs provided a rare moment of comity between the debaters, with Cruz accosting the Federal Drug Administration for slow-rolling innovative prescription drugs. Sanders then claimed the real problem with prescription drugs is their high prices, which he blamed on “greedy” pharmaceutical companies and the government’s lack of power to stop them from raising prices. Again and again, Sanders blamed greedy insurance companies, who have made out “like gangbusters” since Obamacare’s passage, or the greedy pharmaceutical industry and insisted government is the only answer. Cruz helpfully recalled a Saturday Night Live skit, “more cowbell!”
In the end, it was an enlightening debate for those that wished to understand the consternation on both the left and the right when it comes to this difficult, personal issue. This could have been a vigorous debate between the Democrats’ intentions and the reality that the audience repeatedly raised but Sanders stuck to his vision and Cruz was forced to debate against fantasy. Obamacare is like a halfway step toward the progressive vision Sanders outlined. To him, the future of Obamacare is to preserve it and build on it until we have a single-payer healthcare system that will vastly improve healthcare in America. That is why Cruz had to pierce the veil. The law was built on faulty assumptions as it was, a house of cards that insists that healthcare can only be fixed by one-size-fits-all mandates from Washington. The right approach, Cruz said, “is to trust the American people to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.” But Obamacare isn’t just one reform on its own; it’s hundreds of pages of reforms each interconnected and dependent on one another. Halfway step or not, it’s not improved American healthcare. The future of American healthcare remains subject to debate.
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