Democratic town hall: What the candidates said about healthcare

Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Martin O'Malley took the stage in the final forum before the first votes in the Iowa Caucuses next week.

Here are five main takeaways from the town hall on healthcare.

1. Sen. Sanders backed his "Medicare for All" plan despite that Medicare beneficiaries have faced some issues, particularly in accessing affordable drugs. Sen. Sanders said the 29 million people who remain uninsured under the Affordable Care Act cannot afford the cost of drugs and his program would help address that.

"If we move toward a Medicare for all, not only do we cover the needs of all people... we will save middle class people thousands of dollars a year on their healthcare bills, because now we pay, by far, per capita, much, much more than any other country on Earth," Sen. Sanders said.

2. Sen. Sanders said his plan will raise taxes, but it is unfair to say it would be one of the biggest tax hikes in history. "That is an unfair criticism for the following reason. If you are paying now $10,000 a year to a private health insurance company and I say to you, hypothetically, you're going to pay $5,000 more in taxes — or actually less than that, but you're not going to pay any more private health insurance, are you going to be complaining about the fact that I've saved you $5,000 in your total bills?" Sen. Sanders asked. He later added, "There's a little bit of disingenuity out there, we may raise taxes but we are also going to eliminate private health insurance premiums for individuals and for businesses."

3. Mr. O'Malley said he wants to build on the ACA by reducing early out-of-pocket costs for consumers. "What I hear from a lot of folks all over Iowa is that maybe while their premiums have leveled off, they're paying more out-of-pocket more — and their deductibles are higher. So we need to — we need to push the insurance companies to actually offer products that pay for those early, those first out-of-pocket expenses."

4. Mr. O'Malley also said wellness needs to be at the center of healthcare by shifting more care to value-based systems. "In my own state we moved all 46 of our acute care hospitals out of fee-for-service and started paying them global payment for all of their Medicare and Medicaid patients. Why? Because the biggest driver of your high health insurance costs, and throughout our country, is the hospital costs at the center," he said, adding, "And we told our hospitals that if you reduce avoidable hospital readmissions, you can share in those savings. And the New England Journal of Medicine did an article about four weeks ago and said I'll be damned, it actually works."

5. Ms. Clinton used healthcare to as a way to bolster youth voters. "You know look, I've been around a long time. People have thrown all kinds of things at me. And you know I can't keep up with it. I just keep going forward," Ms. Clinton said of why some young voters may think she is dishonest, later adding, "If you're new to politics, if it's the first time you really paid attention, you go oh my gosh, look at all of this. And you have to say to yourself, why are they throwing all of that?"

"Well, I'll tell you why. Because I've been on the front lines of change and progress since I was your age. I have been fighting to give kids and women and the people who are left out and left behind a chance to make the most out of their own lives. And I've taken on the status quo time and time again," she said, calling on her experience in healthcare policy.

She called on her past experience pushing for universal healthcare with her husband, former President Bill Clinton. When that didn't work, she said, she pushed for the Children's Health Insurance Program, which has insured 8 million children, according to Ms. Clinton.

Read the full transcript here.


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