Bernie Sanders defends health care plan challengers argue is bad policy

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders during Tuesday's Democratic debate condemned the country's "dysfunctional" health care system and defended a plan he authored that some challengers attacked as bad policy.

The 77-year-old Vermont senator's universal health care proposal, Medicare for All, would take private health insurance away from more than 150 million Americans in exchange for a government-sponsored healthcare system for all.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg listens.

"Nobody can defend the dysfunctionality of the current system," Sanders said during a lengthy opening discussion on health care. 

Former U.S. Rep. John Delaney said Sanders and fellow Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts are backing “bad policies like Medicare for All, free everything and impossible promises that will turn off independent voters and get Trump re-elected.”

“Or we can nominate someone with new ideas to create universal health care for every American with choice, someone who wants to unify our country and grow the economy and create jobs everywhere,” he said. “And then we win the White House.” 

Sanders, when questioned about Delaney's comments, shot back: “You’re wrong.”

He noted 500,000 Americans go bankrupt every year because of medical bills, while the health care industry makes tens of billions in profit.

"Five minutes away from me and John is in a country, it's called Canada. They guarantee health care to every man, woman and child as a human right," Sanders said. "Health care is a human right, not a privilege. I believe that. I will fight for that."

Delaney questioned "why do we have to be so extreme," adding "I'm starting to think this isn't about health care, this is about anti-private sector."

Still, Sanders said he's confident in his plan and his chances. Every credible poll that he's seen, "has me beating Donald Trump," he said, including the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where he came out on top in Democratic primaries for the last presidential election. 

"He is a fraud and a phony, and we're going to expose him for what he is," Sanders said.

Sanders narrowly won Michigan's primary in 2016 over eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton but is facing new competition for progressive voters this cycle from others within the 25-candidate field.

Sanders was also faced Tuesday with a question from moderators on enacting his plan, which in Michigan would mean more than 600,000 union members would be forced to give up their private plans.

He insisted that workers would end up with better plans that would cover all their needs.

"But you don't know that — you don't know that, Bernie," interjected Tim Ryan, a U.S. Rep. from Ohio. 

Sanders called for a "grassroots movement" to take on Republican President Donald Trump and transform the government and economy.

Trump has bashed Medicare for All, arguing it is a "radical socialist" idea that would cause taxes to "skyrocket" and could jeopardize the traditional health insurance program for seniors.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock also joined the voices of resistance to Sanders' health care plan.

"This is an example of wishlist economics. It used to be just Republicans who wanted to repeal and replace. Now many Democrats do, as well." 

Sanders also waded Tuesday into the issues of climate change, gun violence and immigration. Sanders vowed to “do everything I can” to take on the National Rifle Association and do away with loopholes in the system.

In his closing, Sanders called Trump "the most dangerous president in the history of this country."

"I'm running to transform this country and to stand with the working class of America which for the last 45 years have been decimated," he said. "We need a mass political movement."

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