Democratic debate: What 5 presidential frontrunners had to say about healthcare

Five leading Democratic presidential candidates participated in the first Democratic debate Tuesday night, hosted by CNN and Facebook. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), former governor of Maryland Martin O'Malley, former U.S. Senator Jim Webb (Va.) and former governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee all took to the stage.

The candidates discussed gun control, Russia and Syria, the economy, college costs, Iraq and climate change. Healthcare was relatively overshadowed, receiving fewer than 15 mentions throughout the debate — less than Iraq and immigration issues, according to ABC News.

In the end, many influencers in the political sphere said Ms. Clinton came out on top — she also clocked in the most speaking time. Yet Sen. Sanders clocked in nearly as much time and captured 43 percent of Facebook discussion during the debate.

The candidates expressed similar opinions on the Affordable Care Act, maternal and medical leave policies, and the strain the lack of immigration reform poses on the national healthcare system. Here are six points they made about healthcare during the debate.

1. Sen. Sanders held fast to his demands for universal healthcare. While defining Democratic Socialism — and asserting why a socialist will become president — Sen. Sanders used healthcare to illustrate "that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent — almost — own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. That is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent."

Healthcare, too, is disproportionately distributed among Americans, according to Sen. Sanders, especially compared to other major countries that provide "healthcare to all people as a right." Sen. Sanders pointed to countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway as examples the U.S. should strive to emulate.

Ms. Clinton voiced a similar sentiment to Sen. Sanders on American healthcare, saying "we agree on the goals, we just disagree on the means." Analysts from Politico said Ms. Clinton tried "really hard" to avoid answering the question about universal healthcare. 

2. Both Sen. Sanders and Ms. Clinton were proud to say they are not chummy with drug companies. When asked to name the enemy they are most proud to have made over their careers, Ms. Clinton and Sen. Sanders shared one in common: drug companies. Ms. Clinton actually named several: the National Rifle Association, health insurance companies, Iranians and "probably the Republicans." Sen. Sanders said he'd lump Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry at the top of those who dislike him. Both candidates have released plans or drafted legislation to control rising drug prices.

Mr. O'Malley named the NRA, Mr. Chafee named the coal lobby and Mr. Webb named an enemy soldier that wounded him in the Vietnam War.

3. Juan Carlos Lopez, a reporter with CNN and one of the debate moderators, asked Ms. Clinton if she wanted to expand the Affordable Care Act to the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Her answer? She said the solution is complicated and intimately tied to immigration reform.

"I want to open up the opportunity for immigrants to be able to buy in to the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act," said Ms. Clinton. "I think to go beyond that, as I understand what Governor O'Malley has recommended, so that they would get the same subsidies. I think that is — it raises so many issues. It would be very difficult to administer, it needs to be part of a comprehensive immigration reform, when we finally do get to it."

4. Mr. O'Malley and Mr. Webb made similar remarks, stressing immigration reform as a necessary prelude to healthcare reform for undocumented immigrants.

"Do you think for a second that simply because somebody's standing in a broken queue on naturalization they're not going to go to the hospital, and that care isn't going to fall on to our insurance rates?" said Mr. O'Malley. "I am for a generous, compassionate America that says we're all in this together. We need comprehensive immigration reform."

Although Mr. Webb also supported expanding the ACA to undocumented immigrants, he added it is imperative America develop a "good immigration system" and "comprehensive reform." "No country has — is a country without defining its borders," he said. "We need to resolve this issue."

5. Anderson Cooper, CNN anchor and the lead debate moderator, asked Sen. Sanders about his role with the Veteran Affairs Committee during the VA waitlist scandal. "You and Senator McCain ultimately addressed the issue with bipartisan legislation. Why did it take 18 Inspector General reports, and a CNN investigation, and others, before you and your colleagues took action?" Mr. Cooper asked.

Sen. Sanders, who has served on the VA Committee for eight years, including two years as its chairman during the scandal, named the corrective actions he took to resolve the problem.

"What we did is pass a $15 billion dollar piece of legislation which brought in many, many new doctors, and nurses into the V.A. so that veterans in this country could get the healthcare when they needed it, and not be on long waiting lines," said Sen. Sanders. "And, the other part of that legislation said that if a veteran is living more than 40 miles away from a V.A. facility, that veteran could get healthcare from the community health center, or the private sector. As a result of that legislation, we went further in than any time in recent history in improving healthcare for the men and women of this country who put their lives on the line to defend them."

6. Ms. Clinton, Sen. Sanders and Mr. O'Malley agreed: The U.S. needs better maternal leave policies. "I think we need to recognize the incredible challenges that so many parents face, particularly working moms," said Ms. Clinton.

Dana Bash, CNN's chief congressional correspondent and a debate moderator, asked Ms. Clinton how difficult it would be to institutionalize better leave policies, mentioning there are many people who would say, "Really? Another government program at the expense of taxpayer money?"

Ms. Clinton pointed out what she considers hypocrisy of Republicans or those who oppose legislative policies on paid leave: "They don't mind having big government to interfere with a woman's right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood. They're fine with big government when it comes to that. I'm sick of it. You know, we can do these things."

Sen. Sanders affirmed Ms. Clinton's statement, pointing again to comparisons with other developed countries, which understand a mother's need to be home with a newborn baby. He said the lack of paid family leave in the U.S. is "an international embarrassment."

Mr. O'Malley pointed out he expanded family leave in Maryland, and that women should not be "penalized in having to drop out of the workforce."

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