A good chunk of the Democratic debate was focused on this, and there was a lot of nuance candidates tried to throw in quickly, so what follows is a condensed version of that portion of the debate. I’ve paraphrased key moments to capture the essence of what these candidates said, though direct quotes are demarcated with quote marks.
The very first question of the debate went to Sanders, asking him to respond to former Maryland congressman John Delaney’s argument that taking private insurance away is bad policy and will help get Trump elected.
Sanders: “You’re wrong.” 500,000 Americans every year go bankrupt because of medical bills and 30,000 people are dying while the health care industry makes tens of billions of dollars of profit. Canada does this well, so can we. “Health care is a human right, not a privilege."
Delaney: “We can create a universal health care system to give everyone basic health care for free," but we don’t have to take away people’s private insurance. My dad was an electrician who loved his unionized health care and he would never want someone to take it away.
Sanders: Private insurance is the problem. “If you want stability in the health care system, if you want a system which gives you freedom of choice with regard to a doctor or hospital, the answer is to get rid of the profiteering of the drug companies and insurance companies.”
Delaney: “They’re running on telling half the country that your health insurance is illegal, it says that right in [Sanders’s Medicare-for-all] bill.”
Warren interjects, accusing Delaney of helping Trump win: “We are the Democrats. We are not trying to take away health care from anyone. That’s what Republicans are trying to do. We should stop using Republican talking points.”
Next question goes to Warren, asking her if she supports increasing middle class taxes to pay for Medicare-for-all, which Sanders’s bill would do.The answer is yes. (She is a supporter of Sanders’s bill in the Senate.) But Warren tries not to directly answer the question.
Warren: People should focus on the end goal of universal Medicare, which is for health insurance costs to go down significantly: “Giant corporations are going to pay more, middle class families are going to pay less out of pocket for their health care.”
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, in his first debate appearance, rips Warren and Sanders: “I’m not going to support any plan that rips away quality health care for individuals. This is an example of wish-list economics. It used to be Republicans who wanted to repeal and replace — now many Democrats do as well.”
South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg gets asked the same question, if he’ll support raising taxes on the middle class. He, too, tries not to directly answer it. (His health care proposal would open up Medicare to anyone who wants to join.): “This is a distinction without a difference whether you’re paying more money in taxes or higher premiums.”
Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke gets asked whether he’ll raise middle class taxes. He did not equivocate: “The answer is no.” My plan would enroll uninsured Americans in Medicare.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Bullock agree that there should be a public option allowing anyone to buy into government-provided health care.
Sanders is still peeved that Delaney described his bill in such critical terms as making private health insurance illegal: “By the way the health care industry will be advertising tonight on this program with that talking point.”
Warren backs him up: Let’s focus on the health care industry’s grip on Washington. “These insurance companies do not have a God-given right to make 23 million in profit and suck it out of our health care system.”
Delaney: I used to run a health care business. “I don’t think my colleagues understand the business.” I think we can give everyone a choice to have universal health care without having to raise taxes or get rid of private insurance.
Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper: All of this is fantasy. It takes time to build up a public option to make it really good and something people want to use. Universal health care “would be an evolution, not a revolution.”
Author Marianne Williamson: I normally agree with Warren and Sanders, but on this, I don’t. I am concerned what Republicans would say if we ran for the presidency on getting rid of health insurance. Also, it sounds difficult to do.
Buttigieg: “It is time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say. If we embrace a far-left agenda, they are going to say we are a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, they will say we are a bunch of crazy socialists.”
Sanders: In Canada, where they have a government-run health care system, people pay 1/10th the price of insulin than they do here. “Nobody can defend the constitutionality of this current system.”
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio): Think of the auto workers in Michigan, and what would happen to them if they lost their private health insurance. “The world is crumbing around them.” The only good thing they have is their health care, and they could lose it.
Delaney: Medicare-for-all would cause hospitals to go out of business because it doesn’t pay enough of their bills.
Sanders: Not true.
And then the moderators moved onto immigration.