CNN debate goes beyond ACA repeal to single-payer, pharma prices

The namesakes of the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) argued the law is “broken” in a CNN healthcare debate, with Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, arguing members of Congress should be focusing on short-term fixes discussed by both parties and then larger overhauls down the road. 

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Bill Cassidy, MD, R-Louisiana, said their billturning ACA funding for Medicaid and premium support in block grants will offer states additional flexibility. Cassidy framed the legislation, which was tabled by Senate leaders less than 24 hours after the debate, as the better choice than moving towards the single-payer, Medicare-for-all system supported by Sanders. He also touched on the healthcare industry’s opposition to his bill in contrast to their involvement in the ACA.

“Everybody was at the table—pharma, AMA (American Medical Association), big insurance, hospitals—but not you and me,” Cassidy said. “And that's why our premiums rise, and that's why our taxes go up. And that's why they do so well. If we give the power back to you, back to the state, that totally changes.”

Klobuchar said there are areas of common ground on healthcare policy, such as tackling pharmaceutical costs by allowing easier importing of drugs and negotiating prices in Medicare Part D.

“By either having competition with generic companies and stopping them from paying each other off or having competition with drugs from other countries, because that is the only way we're going to bring these prices down right now,” Klobuchar said.

She was not among the Democratic co-sponsors of Sanders’s Medicare-for-all bill, which was the focus of many of his comments. He said he’d favor incremental steps to his single-payer system, like a public health insurance option, but repeatedly argued a Canadian-like healthcare system will be better for customers and providers.

“So if we are serious about moving to a cost-effective universal health care, yeah, we do have to take on the insurance companies,” Sanders said. “They do not play a role in providing healthcare. Our money should be going to doctors, to nurses, to hospitals, not to the insurance industry or, in fact, the drug industry, which is charging us by far the highest prices in the world.”

You can read the full transcript here.