COUNCIL BLUFFS — Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is defending his “Medicare for All” plan as some competitors for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination warn embracing the proposal could doom the party’s prospects next year.
“Those candidate who run on that program, who have the guts to take on the drug companies and the insurance companies will win and win big,” Sanders said this afternoon.
Sanders was the first of three candidates to speak Saturday at a forum in Council Bluffs sponsored by AARP and The Des Moines Register. Sanders repeated his accusation against former Vice President Joe Biden, that Biden has been “distorting” the tenants of the “Medicare for All” plan Sanders has authored.
“Joe talked about a hiatus, in other words if you have a serious illness as we transition to ‘Medicare for All’ there may be a hiatus. That is absolutely wrong,” Sanders said. “Of course there will be a continuity of care.”
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg supports letting Americans buy into the Medicare system — a so-called “public option.” Buttigieg calls it “Medicare for all who want it” and argues will be cheaper than private insurance.
“It’s also one last dare, though, to the corporate world to come up with something better than they have. If they do, great. I’m not counting on it,” Buttigieg said, “and so I think what will happen over time is that this will become a very natural glide path toward a ‘Medicare for All’ environment — not by flipping a switch and banishing the private sector, but just by putting something better on the table and letting people figure it out for themselves.”
Montana Governor Steve Bullock — the other candidate who addressed AARP members Saturday afternoon — said forcing millions of Americans to give up their private insurance isn’t the answer.
“So many of them like it,” Bullock said. “Sometimes you don’t like either the cost or the deductibles. We can work on that without disrupting the entire system.”
Bullock supports adding a “public option” to Medicare, letting Americans under the age of 65 buy into the system.
Seventeen presidential candidates appeared at five forums this past week, addressing issues of interest to seniors and offering ideas for reducing prescription drugs costs. Many expressed support for legalizing marijuana for medical use. Buttigieg Saturday said he supports legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use.
“I don’t recommend smoking anything, but not only are there important medical uses, but we’ve just hit at the point as a country where there are a lot of offenses, including I think non-violent drug offenses, where the way we responded to it — the incarceration — is actually doing more harm to society,” Buttigieg said.
Bullock, as the governor of Montana, recently approved tweaks to his state’s medical marijuana program.
“It goes to individuals in need and it makes a meaningful difference, but you always have the barriers at the federal level, both the scheduling of it as a drug and the difficulty of banking any of the dollars, being medical or recreational,” Bullock said, “so I think the federal government should get out of the way and this is a state-by-state decision.”
Sanders, the first candidate to speak Saturday in Council Bluffs, has long supported legalization of marijuana, as part of his criminal justice reform agenda.
=== The four Democratic presidential candidates who spoke at a forum in Sioux City Friday agree the nation’s health care system needs reform, but they differ on how aggressive the effort should be.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said “Medicare for All” will provide maximum coverage at a minimum price.
“It’s about health care from our babies to our seniors,” Warren said, “so that no one has to go bankrupt over a medical problem.”
Warren is calling for the elimination of private insurance.
“Look at the basic business model,” Warren said. “It’s charge the maximum amount you can in premiums and pay out the least that you can in health care coverage and last year, following exactly that model, insurance companies sucked $23 billion in profits out of the system and that’s before you even count the tens of millions that they paid the corporate CEOs, how much people had to spend on time, on paperwork and hours fighting with insurance companies.”
Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke calls his plan “Medicare for America.” It would let Americans to buy into Medicare on a sliding scale, based on income, but O’Rourke does not support ending private insurance.
“So we get to universal, guaranteed care while still preserving choice,” O’Rourke said, “and we avoid the false choice between the status quo — what we have today, the Affordable Care Act – and something that would force tens of millions of American off private insurance and into Medicare.”
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang supports moving to a “Medicare for All” system that would cover non-traditional treatments, too, like acupuncture.
“Different things work for different people,” Yang said. “…Our health care programs should cover different types of holistic treatments that people find constructive and helpful and beneficial.”
Marianne Williamson, an author and spiritual adviser who was the other candidate to speak in Sioux City Friday, opposes Medicare for All.
“I want to be an agent of change. I don’t want to be an agent of chaos,” Williamson said, starting to snap her finger to emphasize her point. “I’m afraid if go in there and think: ‘Medicare for All! Get rid of private insurance right away, etc,’ I’m afraid the brakes are going to lock.”
Last Monday, AARP and The Des Moines Register began hosting 17 Democratic presidential candidates at forums in five cities, all focused on senior issues.