Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders challenged rival Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on her oft-repeated statement that 90% of Americans now have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act, saying “not really” because of “outrageously high” deductibles and premiums.
He said in a primary debate Wednesday night that the American people are “prepared to stand up to the insurance companies and the drug companies.” The debate was in Florida, which has its pivotal primary Tuesday along with Ohio, another key state. In polls, Clinton leads Sanders in all of the states voting next week.
Sanders was coming off of a surprising win in Michigan this week that buoyed supporters, although Clinton maintained her lead in the number of delegates. The Univision-hosted debate in Miami focused on immigration policy.
Increasing premium and deductible costs for plans under the ACA have been a frequent complaint from opponents of the law and a concern for many supporters as well. Premiums increased this year for ACA plans, but analyses differ on how much.
The candidates took their usual positions on healthcare. Sanders promoted his Medicare-for-all program and said it would bring the country in line with other nations. Clinton said that she supports universal coverage but doesn't believe a plan like Sanders' would have any chance of getting passed in Congress and would throw the country back into a contentious healthcare debate.
“I think the smart approach is to build on and protect the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “Make it work. Reduce the cost.”
Clinton also pointed to concerns from a variety of economists that Sanders' healthcare and tax plan pay-fors don't add up the way his campaign claims.
Health policy hasn't been a big issue so far in the primaries. About a quarter of Super Tuesday voters listed healthcare as the top issue for the country.
About 19% of Democratic primary voters in Michigan chose healthcare as the most important issue for them. That was more than terrorism at 8% but below economy/jobs at 43% and income inequality at 27%, according to exit polls.
Those who said healthcare was their top issue split fairly evenly among the candidates, with 49% voting for Sanders and 48% for Clinton.
The 24% of Mississippi Democrats voting in the primary who named healthcare as the most important issue voted overwhelming for Clinton, who won the state by about 82%.