Sens. Sanders, Cruz Face Off in Debate on Affordable Care Act

Sens. Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders talking on an auditorium stage

In an almost two-hour debate at GW, Sens. Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders spoke about repeal of the ACA, the role of the government in health care, and the future of Medicare. Photo by Harrison Jones.

Standing on the stage in George Washington University’s (GW) Jack Morton Auditorium on Feb. 7, Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) debated the state of the U.S. health care system — with Cruz calling for total repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and Sanders making his case for a single-payer health system.

Although the lawmakers did not agree on much throughout the debate, they were able to have a frank and open discussion.

“It was nice and refreshing for neither side to be yelling, but simply stating the facts and their positions,” said John Marin, a first-year M.D. student at GW. “I definitely appreciate GW holding all these talks. I didn’t know they happened so often [here].”

Going to medical school in Washington, D.C., Marin added, provides a platform for students to advocate for or against laws such as the ACA — something “that affects everybody, whether you’re on one side or the other.”

During the almost two-hour debate, Cruz and Sanders spoke about repeal of the ACA, the role of the government in health care, and the future of Medicare.

Cruz, in keeping with the GOP’s views on President Obama’s landmark health care reform, said that Congress should quickly repeal “every word of Obamacare.”

“Bernie and the Democrats want the government to control health care,” he told the audience. “I trust you, and I trust your doctors. Health care works better when you’re in charge of your health decisions.”

Cruz added that any significant proposal brought forward by the GOP to replace the ACA would continue to maintain that insurance companies can’t cancel someone’s plan because they have a pre-existing condition.

Sanders spoke candidly about some of the problems currently dogging the ACA, such as rising deductibles, but said complete repeal of the legislation would put the lives of 20 million people with health insurance through the ACA at risk.

“Do we have to improve ACA? Of course we do,” he said. “But let us remember where we came from before the ACA; if you were a family of four living under [President George W. Bush], your premiums doubled.

“The U.S. is the only major country on Earth [that doesn’t] guarantee health care to people as a right,” Sanders added. “[W]e have to go forward and join every other major country on Earth.”

Cruz derided the idea of a single-payer plan, saying that the answer isn’t more government control of health care, but rather empowering the American people to make decisions on what’s best for them.

He noted wait times and delays seen in countries with single-payer systems as principle flaws. In the U.K., millions of people are waiting for health care, Cruz said. “This is what happens when the government takes over health care, the result is rationing and waiting periods,” he said.

Sanders fought back, noting that the U.S. has “enormous rationing.” “When you have 28 million people without insurance, that’s rationing,” he said. “The way we do rationing is: If you’re wealthy, you get the best health care in the world. Rationing is done by income.”