Sen. Bernie Sanders, I–Vt., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R–Texas, squared off in Jack Morton Auditorium Tuesday night, debating the future of health care in an event moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.
The two-hour discussion was largely focused on the effectiveness of former President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act and commonly known as Obamacare, and each senator’s hopes for an ideal health care system. Tapper said health care policy “was the most important issue to voters” during the recent election.
Although the discussion focused on policy, the audience asked questions based on personal experiences under the Affordable Care Act that led to theoretical arguments.
While the future of the health care law is uncertain in the new administration, the debate focused on what would happen if the law was repealed altogether – a position held by many Republicans, including Cruz.
1. Things got personal
The debate was guided by pre-selected questions from the audience, which drew on personal experiences under the Affordable Care Act to raise issues or satisfactions with the law.
One of those questions came from Neosho Ponder, a breast cancer patient who could be rejected by insurance companies without the act’s protection against denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
Cruz said his mother struggled with breast cancer, and current plans to replace the health care act include those kind of protections.
Sanders said Cruz’s promise for protections is in contradiction to the promises of Cruz’s presidential campaign.
“If you listen to the next sentence, I always said ‘We aren’t done yet with formulating the perfect insurance law,’” Cruz said.
2. A spotlight on socialism
Sanders, a self-identifying “democratic socialist,” has long supported the idea of a single-payer health care system, similar to that of Canada and many European countries.
In response to a question from a small business owner who said she cannot provide insurance to her employees because it is too expensive, Sanders said that if she lived in Canada, she would get her health care.
The idea of a single-payer system reappeared in the answer to nearly every question, which Sanders used to provide a solution to most insurance-related problems.
“Health care is a human right,” Sanders said, saying that a public option, like Medicaid, would be an affordable choice for those who can’t afford private insurance.
Cruz said these systems are ineffective and intrusive, often leading to long waits for care and higher taxes.
“Choices have gone down dramatically,” Cruz said. “I want all of us to be in charge of our health care, not government.”
3. Blaming the other side
Cruz and Sanders ended the night with their own explanations on how health care policy came to be.
Sanders said recent movements to repeal the Affordable Care Act are fueled by campaign advertising, not the interests of the public.
“We have a Congress that is more interested in representing their campaign contributors and the very wealthy than the needs of ordinary Americans,” Sanders said.
Cruz described the law as being “built on an edifice of lies” and the result of political fumbling by Democrats. He added that the Affordable Care Act reminds him of the famous “more cowbell” Saturday Night Live skit with Christopher Walken, with regulations being added at the same rate as cowbell was in the skit.
“Every time they record it, his solution is more cowbell, more cowbell,” Cruz said. “It was government control, where the solution is always to add more cowbell.”