The state of the Democratic debate on health care

The fifth Democratic debate will take place this evening in Atlanta at 9 PM ET. With the Iowa Caucus just 75 days away, this debate will serve as a pivotal moment for candidates as they attempt to shore up support. While the field remains in flux — with candidates simultaneously entering and exiting the race — a clear top four has emerged in both fundraising and polling metrics: Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.


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In a recent Des Moines Register poll, the top four candidates combined account for 71 percent of “first choice” preferences for respondents.

The politics of health care powered the Democrats to a House Majority in 2018 and have played a central role in drawing the ideological boundaries between the top 4.

To understand the context of the health care debate among the top 4 candidates, we curated a reading list from the candidates’ platforms and sharp analysis from reporters we like.

Where the top 4 stand on health care:

Elizabeth Warren

My First Term Plan for Reducing Health Care Costs in America and Transitioning to Medicare for All – Elizabeth Warren, Medium  

*Warren is a cosponsor on Sanders’ Medicare For All bill

Joe Biden

Joe’s Plan to Protect and Build on the Affordable Care Act – Joe Biden, Official Campaign Website

Bernie Sanders  

Health Care as a Human Right – Medicare For All – Bernie Sanders, Official Campaign Website

*Sanders’ Medicare For All bill can be found here.

Pete Buttigieg 

Putting Every American in Charge of Their Health Care with Affordable Choice for All – Pete Buttigieg, Official Campaign Website 



Blue states’ watered-down health reforms – Caitlin Owens, Axios 

States are significantly more limited in their authority than the federal government, but the efforts of Colorado, Washington and California show just how hard massive health care disruption is.”

Joe Biden’s health care plan, explained – Matthew Yglesias Vox

Politifact: Joe Biden’s Claim on Medicare For All Tax Hikes Rests on Flaky Analysis – Shefali Luthra, Politifact 

And there’s another issue, said Ellen Meara, a health economist at Dartmouth College. That is, highlighting the potential tax burden of Medicare for All without discussing overall costs is misleading, she argued.”

The Democrats’ Gamble on Health Care for the Undocumented – Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic

There will always be a group of folks who are animated by the immigration issue and that just might be something they are opposed to, period,” he said, basing his analysis on focus groups and polls his group has conducted in California. “But if they see an effort to help people broadly, most people don’t begrudge others being helped as part of that process.”

Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-all plan, explained – Sarah Kliff, Vox

The Democratic Debates Are a Fantasy World – Norm Orstein, The Atlantic 

Ideally, an entire debate would be devoted to how each candidate would govern, if elected president, in a political environment like the one we actually live in. But moderators owe it to voters to ask at least some questions on the topic—instead of returning over and over to the same debate about Medicare, and to the pretense that presidential candidates’ elaborate plans magically become law.”

Pete Buttigieg’s Medicare-for-all-who-want-it plan, explained – Dylan Scott, Vox 

How Elizabeth Warren Got to ‘Yes’ on Medicare for All – Sarah Kliff, New York Times

Bernie Sanders unveils plan to cancel $81 billion in U.S. medical debt – Bloomberg, Los Angeles Times