Sens. Cruz and Sanders Debate Future of Health Care

CNN town hall at George Washington University offers opposing points of view on what should happen with the Affordable Care Act.

bernie sanders and ted cruz
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), left, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) appeared at a CNN town hall at GW on Tuesday. The senators agreed on little but stated their points in a lively but mostly collegial way. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
February 08, 2017

By B.J. Wilson

There were a few points in their debate on the future of healthcare in the United States on which Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) agreed. The right to import cheaper prescription drugs and the outrageous profits earned by the health insurance industry were among them.

But there was little else the two senators came close on during a CNN town hall Tuesday night at the George Washington University.

Mr. Cruz said there is an urgency to honor the promise made to the American people in the past elections and that is to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“2010, 2014, 2016 I believe was a mandate from the voters who said we’re tired of premiums going up, we’re tired of deductibles going up, we’re tired of less choices,” Mr. Cruz said. “So yes, Congress should move swiftly to repeal Obamacare. Absolutely.”

Mr. Sanders said that any move to repeal the ACA without a replacement plan ready would be a “disaster.”

“The truth is that the Republicans are now in a panic because the American people have caught on that the absolute repeal of Obamacare without improvements in it, without a plan to make it better would be an absolute disaster,” Mr. Sanders said.

For more than 90 minutes, the two senators stated their points in a lively but mostly collegial way, sometimes evoking laughter from the audience in the Jack Morton Auditorium that seemed evenly divided between opponents and supporters of the ACA.  The debate was moderated by Jake Tapper, CNN anchor, and Dana Bash, B.A. ’93, CNN political correspondent.

Mr. Sanders, a Democratic presidential contender in 2016, said that the GOP plan to repeal the healthcare law would have negative consequences for millions of people. “If you are one of 20 million Americans who finally has received health insurance, forget about it, you’re gone,” he said. “You’re off health insurance.”

People with preexisting conditions, such as diabetes or cancer, he argued, could be rejected by insurance companies and the price of prescription drugs for older citizens would become prohibitive.

Mr. Cruz, who also ran an unsuccessful campaign for president, health care is a personal issue that should be about choice. 

“I think health care works better when you’re in charge of your health care decisions,” he said, “when you can sit down with your doctor and decide the best care for your family without the government setting the rules, without government rationing, without wait periods.”

Mr. Cruz said that many of the promises President Barack Obama made when the legislation was adopted did not hold. Some Americans have not been able to keep the insurance plans or the doctors they want under ACA, he said.

A small business owner from Texas in the audience challenged Mr. Sanders over an ACA requirement that businesses with more 50 employees provide them with health insurance. The rule, she said, has kept her from growing her business.

Mr. Sanders replied that she would not like his response because a majority of Americans get their health insurance through their workplace.

“If you have more than 50 people, I’m afraid to tell you, you should be providing health insurance,” he said.

A pregnant woman in the audience asked Mr. Cruz what insurance alternatives would be available for her if the ACA is repealed.

“We should have a system where you could get the policy that meets your needs,” Mr. Cruz said. “We should care about access to health care, not just insurance per se.”

Mr. Sanders jumped in, pointing out that before the ACA pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition. “What Ted is really telling her is that there is no guaranteed coverage,” he said.

He agreed that the ACA needs to be improved, but he said that Mr. Cruz would make a bad situation worse. The United States, Mr. Sanders said, should be moving toward a right to health care like every other major country in the world.

However, Mr. Cruz didn’t move from his position.

“Government control messed this all up,” he said. “I want to put you in charge of our health care, not the government.”

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