3 healthcare takeaways from the latest round of Democratic presidential debates

Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, vehemently pushed back centrist attacks on his "Medicare for All" healthcare plan during the first night of debates. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

Healthcare was a major topic on both nights of Democratic presidential debates this past week. 

The first night, Tuesday, had centrist candidates attacking progressive stalwarts Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts over “Medicare for All.” The second night, Wednesday, had primary front-runner former Vice President Joe Biden repel attacks from all comers.

Here are some key takeaways from the two nights:

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Biden, Harris fight over health plans

Both Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, and Biden resumed their fight that started during the last Democratic debate, but the topic this time shifted from mandated school busing to criticisms of their respective health plans.

Biden took on Harris’ healthcare plan that expands Medicare to all Americans within 10 years but allows Americans to buy private plans.

“Any time someone tells you that you are going to get something good in 10 years you should wonder why it takes 10 years,” Biden said. “If you notice there is no talk about the plan that in 10 years it will cost $3 trillion. You will lose your employer-based insurance.”

RELATED: Biden releases plan that strengthens ACA while dinging 'Medicare for All'

Harris shot back that Biden’s healthcare plan, which essentially expands and protects the Affordable Care Act, doesn’t cover all Americans as her plan would.

“For a Democrat to be running for president with a plan that does not cover everyone I think is without excuse,” she said.

Medicare for All gets moderate grilling

Much of the criticism of Medicare for All came during the first debate Tuesday that featured top-tier progressive candidates Warren and Sanders. Several low-polling centrist Democrats took shots at the healthcare plan.

Some of the more animated clashes involved Sanders.

“Medicare for All is comprehensive. It covers all healthcare needs,” Sanders said.

“You don’t know that, Bernie,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio.

“I do know that. I wrote the damn bill,” Sanders shot back, delivering a line already being sold by his campaign on bumper stickers and t-shirts.

RELATED: Experts highlight the many cost questions around 'Medicare for All' at hearing

Warren also gave an emphatic defense of the single-payer program by targeting health insurers.

“The basic profit model of an insurance company is to take as much money as you can in premiums and pay out as little as possible in coverage,” she said.

But centrists challenged the electoral prospects of the progressive policies, arguing they can’t beat President Donald Trump by running on progressive issues.

“You might as well Fed-Ex the election to Donald Trump,” said former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Hospitals got off pretty easy

A lot of the anger from candidates on both nights focused on insurers and pharmaceutical companies for high healthcare prices.

“For these plans that rely on insurance companies. I am sorry. They are for-profit companies,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York. “They have an obligation to their shareholders.

But Olga Khazan of The Atlantic pointed out that Democrats are largely letting providers off the hook in their rhetoric.

“Many scholars suggest that American healthcare is so dysfunctional because it simply costs too much,” Khazan wrote in The Atlantic Thursday. “That’s the fault of doctors, drugmakers, and hospitals, too, not just insurers.”

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