Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday afternoon defended his sweeping single-payer health care proposal and challenged his opponents in the 2020 race, including President Donald Trump, to refuse donations from pharmaceutical and health insurance companies and their lobbying groups.
“Candidates not willing to take that pledge should be willing to explain why those donations are a good investment for the industry,” Sanders (I-Vt.) said, arguing this pledge will help “break the stranglehold” of the industries over health care politics. “We don’t want their money because we don’t think the current health care system is right.”
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Some of Sanders’ rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), have held fundraisers hosted by insurance company executives since launching their bids for the White House, and several others in the 2020 field have taken donations from the drug and insurance industries in past campaigns.
Sanders warned supporters to expect the industries to mobilize against his bill with ads, donations to opposing candidates and studies showing the policy’s downsides. “Medicare for All” “will be opposed by some of the most powerful special interests in our country — companies that have unlimited amounts of money,” he said. “But they are going to fail.”
He also took a veiled swipe at Biden, who told an AARP forum in Iowa earlier this week that single-pager was “risky” and would destroy the traditional Medicare program. Sanders said this was “misinformation,” since his plan would make comprehensive dental, vision and hearing benefits available free of charge under Medicare, which currently does not cover these services.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the ability to see and hear and have teeth in your mouth is a health care issue,” he said, drawing laughter from the audience. “So despite what you hear about Medicare for seniors being weakened, it will actually be strengthened.”
Biden’s spokesperson Bill Russo hit back on Twitter, citing the text of Sanders’ bill that shows traditional Medicare and Medicaid ending as all U.S. residents are enrolled in a new, expanded Medicare for All program.
“Defend your replacement all you want, but the bill [is] pretty clear that existing federal health programs go away,” he wrote. “Biden told the truth.”
Nearly half of the Democratic field has endorsed Medicare for All, and all the senators in the race save Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.) have put their names on Sanders’ bill. But many of the candidates, including Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Gillibrand have described themselves as being open to different paths to achieve the goal of universal coverage, including more moderate buy-in plans.