The first Democratic primary debate showed the marked contrast between the 2020 candidates and it was surprisingly obvious on the question of universal health care.
The 10 Democratic hopefuls clashed on several issues during Wednesday’s debate hosted by NBC, but the response to one question on government-run health care seemed to raise some eyebrows.
“We’re going to turn to the issue of healthcare right now, I’m really trying to understand where there may or may not be daylight between you,” NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt said, noting how many Americans currently enjoy health care insurance through their employers.
“Who here would abolish their private health insurance in favor of a government-run plan,” he asked, adding, “just a show of hands.”
With 10 candidates on the stage in Miami, Florida, viewers may have expected to see a more unified response to the critical question and NBC may have been looking for a dramatic visual moment.
But only two of the 2020 hopefuls raised their hands.
Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Julián Castro, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Tim Ryan of Ohio, John Delaney and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard kept their hands down.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were the lone candidates who raised their hands in favor of abolishing private insurance, garnering a round of applause from the audience.
A discussion followed on implementing a single-payer health care system while eliminating private insurance, with Warren arguing that the increasing cost of insurance premiums challenges families trying to get health care coverage.
“Medicare for all solves that problem,” she said.
She explained that she was in agreement on the issue with self-described democratic socialist and 2020 hopeful, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who will take the debate stage with other top contenders like Joe Biden on Thursday.
“I’m with Bernie on Medicare for All,” Warren said.
As BPR reported, Warren was singled out as the frontrunner during the debate as complaints of favoritism by the moderators poured in on social media.
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The obvious divide among the candidates on the question led to heated debate on stage as many of the other candidates explained their support of alternate plans that would give Americans the choice to buy into a public option, like Medicare, while maintaining private insurance for others.
“To some extent, you’re supporting a bill that would have every hospital close,” former Maryland Rep. John Delaney said, calling for health care reforms which “keeps what’s working and fixes what’s broken.”
O’Rourke’s argument in favor of letting Americans keep their private plans gave de Blasio an opportunity to attack.
“Why are you defending the private insurance industry?” the progressive New York City mayor asked.
While he and Warren were the lone standouts on the issue, some saw it as an important moment that cold work out in Warren’s favor.
“I think this is potentially the most important point so far,” Lynn Vavreck, a UCLA American politics professor said, according to CNBC. “There is some disagreement here on what was asked of them, but I think this will generate a lot of coverage which will be good for Warren.”
But the plan to eliminate private health insurance was slammed as a “radical” idea by the Republican National Committee while the Trump campaign also weighed in.
In a statement following Wednesday’s debate, President Trump’s 2020 campaign said that the Democratic candidates “want to throw 200 million people off their current private healthcare plans, put them into a government-run system that would eliminate choice, and crush innocent Americans with an enormous tax burden to pay for it.”
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