Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz Debate Health Care: Live Analysis

One was almost a presidential nominee last year — a hero to his party’s ideological base, hailed as the truest of true believers.

The other … pretty much the same deal.

And tonight, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders are squaring off in the presidential debate that 2016 left behind. The two are appearing on CNN for a town hall forum on the future of the Affordable Care Act.

We’ll be following live with highlights and analysis. (You’ll have to tune your first screen into CNN to see the actual action.)

I’m Matt Flegenheimer, a congressional reporter for The Times and former chronicler of Cruz 2016.

Also joining the fun: Yamiche Alcindor, who writes about social safety net issues after covering the Sanders campaign last year, and Margot Sanger-Katz, a health care correspondent for The Upshot.
The event doubles as a sort of presidential bronze-medal match for the two former candidates, who could never quite catch Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in their primaries.

The debate stage was often a key showcase for Cruz and Sanders during their runs.

Cruz put his history as a champion college debater to use, ticking off stats and arguments with the zeal of a prosecutor. Sanders earned praise for insisting that voters were tired of hearing about Clinton’s “damn emails.”

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3 big takeaways from Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz's CNN debate

In a televised, 90-minute-plus CNN debate, which provided a glimpse at an alternate reality in which Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump had not won their mutually grueling 2016 presidential primary campaigns, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders squared off on the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday night.

While the affair was significantly politer than the tense, ad-hominem-loaded Trump-Clinton debates, Cruz and Sanders held no punches about just what the looming prospect of an ACA repeal meant for the country. While Cruz insisted Republicans would provide better access to health care at a lower price point than the ACA, Sanders fairly pointed out the party still has little idea how to do that and risks stripping insurance from tens of millions who did not have it before the law went into effect.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the biggest flash points of the night.

1. Cruz says health care is not a right, just "access to health care" — Sanders shoots back
In one of the sharpest parlays of the evening, Cruz defined a civil right as freedom from government interference. According to the Texas senator, no one in the U.S. has a "right" to health care — just the right to "access" it if they so choose.

Sanders shot back, "Access doesn't mean a damn thing. What it means is if people can afford it."

The Vermont senator added while every U.S. citizen technically has "access" to a mansion like the palatial estates owned by President Donald Trump, that access meant nothing without the cash to back it up.

"Access to what?" Sanders quipped. "You want to buy one of Donald Trump's mansions? You have 'access' to do that as well."

Elsewhere, Cruz said, "Bernie and the Democrats want government to control health care. I trust you, and I trust your doctors."

"When Ted talks about choice, here's your choice," Sanders said. "You got cancer; you go to your doctor, and the insurance company says we're not going to cover it. We can't make money on you."

2. Cruz and Sanders spar about health care "rationing" employer mandates
Cruz read off a list of instances in which people were supposedly forced to wait long periods of time for health care, saying single-payer health care was tantamount to rationing. United States health care costs so much because it is high quality and "we get a lot more and a lot better healthcare," according to Cruz.

Sander responded, "This country has more rationing than any other industrialized country on Earth, except that rationing is done by income ... If you are very rich, you can get the best health care in the world."

At another point, Sanders responded to Texas hair salon owner LaRonda Hunter, who said mandates to provide heath care to employees at her five locations was damaging the business, by saying he had "an answer you will not be happy with."

"I'm sorry, I think that in America today, everybody should have health care," Sanders said. "And if you have more than 50 people, you know what, I think I'm afraid to tell you, but I think you will have to provide health insurance."

"Millions of small businesses are being told by the Democrats: Tough luck we don't care if it drives you out of business," Cruz responded.

3. Sanders says Cruz is lying about what will happen after the ACA repeal
Cruz insisted every Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would "prohibit companies from jacking up the insurance rates because they got sick or injured."

"Ted, I cannot believe what you just said!" Sanders exclaimed.

"It's a direct contradiction of everything you ran for president on," Sanders continued. "What Ted has said is he wants to get rid of all federal mandates. Did you say that a hundred times?"

Elsewhere, Sanders argued repealing the ACA would result in millions losing health insurance.

"If you are one of 20 million Americans who finally has received health insurance, forget about it — you're gone," Sanders said. "That means when you get sick, you ain't gonna be able to go to the doctor. And when you end up in the hospital, you'll be paying those bills for the rest of your life, or maybe you'll go bankrupt."

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