Finley: Democrats butcher health care debate

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
From left, presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are introduced Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, before a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston.

So, what is the Democratic plan for fixing health care in America?

Beats me.

Those watching the Democratic presidential debate in Houston Thursday night might be hard pressed to figure out what exactly the candidates are offering as an answer to what moderator George Stephanopoulos of ABC News called the biggest issue of the campaign.

All paid respect to former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which just a decade ago turned the private insurance market inside out. California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris said we should “credit Barack Obama for bringing us this far.” But where we’ve come, by her own depiction, is a place where health insurance is too costly and doesn’t cover enough people. 

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts added that Obama “fundamentally transformed health care in America and committed this country to providing health care for every human being.”

He sure enough did transform it — by driving up the cost of insurance premiums and fueling crushing increases in co-pays and deductibles for Affordable Care Act health plans so today many of those with health insurance can’t afford to use it. 

And health care for every human being may have been the goal, but it’s not the reality. Two-thirds of those uninsured before Obamacare are still uninsured today. That adds up to 27 million Americans.

So by their own admission, the last great Democratic push to fix health care didn’t get the job done, and now they want the American people to give them another crack at the job.

U.S. Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey declared: “Everyone on this stage is in favor of universal health care.” Well, who isn’t?

But how these Democrats seeking the White House get us there seems like a scary journey.

Warren and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont share a plan that is the easiest to understand — put everyone in the country on Medicare. But, as former Vice PresidentJoe Biden asked, “How we gonna pay for it?”

Warren, who is moving up steadily in the polls, would pull out a magic wand and lift entire $31 trillion from the pocket of the wealthy and big corporations. Who picks up the tab when they’re drained dry is unclear.

Warren also assured voters that once the Sanders/Warren plan is in place, patients will have access to their doctors, nurses and rural hospitals. They will, unless those doctors decide to chuck it in rather than accept lower fees, and those rural hospitals collapse because the discounted Medicare payments won’t cover their costs.

Sanders is more honest about who will pay, admitting the middle class will be hit with higher taxes. 

But the self-declared democratic socialist is convinced employers will take the money they’re currently spending on health care and give it to their workers. That naïve response prompted a terrific line from Biden, who said to Sanders, “For a socialist, you trust corporations a lot more than I do.”

And yet Biden’s own plan, various versions of which are backed by the rest of the non-socialists in the race, depends on businesses continuing to offer employer-paid health insurance policies once the government extends Medicare to the uninsured. Biden’s hybrid plan would try again to fix Obamacare by adding a public option.

Count on this: Once employers can dump the cost of employee health care on the federal government, Biden’s promise that “If you like your health insurance you can keep it” will prove as big a lie as Obama’s vow that “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” 

There’s a reason most of the 10 Democrats who made it to the debate stage have increasingly distanced themselves from Medicare for All. Polls show Americans don’t want to turn all their health care decisions over to the federal government.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg reminded Sanders of that reality, saying “What’s wrong with the damn plan you wrote is that it doesn’t trust the American people. I trust the American people to make the best choice for them. Why don’t you?”

Good question. A better one is why should we believe any of these expensive and untested plans offered by the Democratic candidates will leave us any better off than the ironically named Democratic train wreck that is the Affordable Care Act?