What Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg said about health care during recent campaign stops

Senator Bernie Sanders held a campaign rally in Tacoma, Washington on Monday evening. Seattle U.S. Rep. and National Health Policy Chair for the Sanders campaign, Pramila Jayapal, and a bevy of local surrogates warmed up a crowd of over 17,000 energized supporters in a packed Tacoma Dome. Speaking on Presidents Day, Sanders delighted the crowd with familiar jeremiads against the corporate elite and the Democratic establishment. Health care was a dominant theme throughout the rally.

Two days prior, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was in Seattle for an early afternoon fundraiser. The fundraiser, billed as “Brunch in Seattle With Mayor Pete”, was hosted by Suzi and Eric Levine at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center. Suzi Levine is the former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Eric Levine is an entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of CellarTracker.  The campaign estimated that about 350 people were in attendance.  

While the event was closed to the press, the campaign allowed State of Reform to attend a small portion of the event to compile a pool report. Buttigieg’s comments below were recorded during a 25 minute period where Buttigieg gave 10 minutes of prepared remarks and answered audience questions for another 15.


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Bernie Sanders

Sanders delivered his longstanding panegyric on Medicare for All by arguing that rising costs make the status quo unsustainable.

We are going to end the international disgrace of our great country being the only major nation on earth that does not guarantee health care to every man, woman and child. Health care is a human right not a privilege. It is totally insane that today we are spending twice as much money per person on health care as is Canada or any other major country on earth. We our spending $11,000 for every man, woman, and child. The average working family in America is spending $12,000 — 20 percent of that family’s income. But despite that huge expenditure we have 87 million people who are uninsured or underinsured. We have, and this is a total disgrace, we have 30,000 people each year who die because they don’t get to a doctor in time.”  

Sanders also lamented the high cost of prescription drugs in the United States; a central theme for the Senator on the campaign trail. Over the summer, Sanders arranged a bus tour across the Canadian border from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario for about a dozen people with diabetes to buy insulin. One woman on the trip said she bought insulin for about one-tenth the price of what she pays in the United States for a vial of the same size.

We are not going to accept an economy where many millions of our people cannot afford health care and where our people are being ripped off every day, by the greed and corruption of the pharmaceutical industry, which in some times is charging us 10 times more for some prescription drugs sold in other countries.”

In making the case for Medicare for All, Sanders also cited the systemic issues surrounding medical debt.

If you want to hear about a cruel and dysfunctional system, understand that every year some 500,000 Americans go bankrupt because of medical debt they cannot pay. What kind of system do we have when people who are struggling with cancer or heart disease or Alzheimers have got to worry about financial ruin because of the outrageous costs of health care in this country. So together, whether the insurance companies like it not, whether the drug companies like it or not, we are going to pass a Medicare for All single-payer system. 

And what that system means is that there are no more premiums for you or your employers, no more copayments when you walk into a doctors office, and we end the insane concept of deductibles, no out of pocket expenses, and because we’re going to lower drug prices substantially in this country under our proposal; nobody pays more than $200 per year for the prescription drugs they need.  And under Medicare for All we cover dental care, hearing aids, eye glasses, and home health care so people are not forced into nursing homes.” 

Pete Buttigieg   

In his opening remarks, Buttigieg argued that coming up with solutions to mental health and addiction should be weighed equally with treating physical ailments.

We are the majority ready to see to it that this becomes a country that is as comfortable dealing with mental health and addiction as with any physical medical issue.”

Buttigieg underscored his platform’s focus on mental health during the Q&A when a questioner asked what Buttigieg would propose to do to help the 11,000 homeless people in King County.

We’ve also got to recognize the overlap of mental health and substance abuse challenges. And if you’ve ever been in this situation, as I have before a polar vortex, trying to persuade people to come in from the cold. When we’ve figured out a way to get them indoors and they were unwilling or unable to do it, unprepared to meet the challenges that had them on the street even when you create low barrier shelters. We need a true mental health infrastructure.”

Answering another question regarding Buttigieg’s policies to advance care for rural and underserved areas, the Mayor said:

All the sizzle in the health care debate is on the coverage side. And I get it, it’s a very exciting debate. But not enough is being said about the provider side; making sure that doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and all those in the clinical environment are being supported. Part of that ties back to the coverage side as we’ve got to have a reimbursement structure that draws more people into the fields there are shortages of. We’ve also got to have a more flexible clinical practice that is able to cap the ability of nurse practitioners to make sure we’re filling in the gaps in care.”

Buttigieg also touted his long-term care proposal and embraced the age composition of his base.  Buttigieg has consistently polled strongly with voters over the age of 65.

I know it’s funny as the youngest candidate for President, but I want to be known as the long-term care retirement candidate too. We’re seeing tremendous gaps in the system…and the ability to afford long-term care is not there. It’s why I’m proposing we create a cash benefit for everybody who’s relying on long-term care called ‘Long-term care America’. $90 per day that may not cover everything but it will make a huge difference, and we will apply it to in-home care too.”