Health care dominates debate conversation amid COVID-19 outbreak


Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders took part in a head-to-head debate March 15.

Katherine Kealey

The latest Democratic debate took place late March 15 in Washington D.C. after it had been moved from Phoenix due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., began the debate standing six feet apart from each other in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines and were asked questions about the virus and how they would go about handling a pandemic as president. 

Sanders used the disease to shed light on the American health care system. He said the coronavirus has made the “dysfunctionality” of the health care system apparent.

“The bottom line here is, in terms of ‘Medicare for All,’ despite what the vice president is saying, what the experts tell us is that one of the reasons we are unprepared and have been unprepared is that we don’t have a system,” Sanders said. “We got thousands of private insurance plans, that is not a system that is prepared to provide health care to all people.”

Sanders said he had concerns about whether treatment under the Biden administration would truly be free due to “loopholes,” but Biden said not having Medicare for All would not impact accessibility to treatment.

“A national crisis says we are responding, it is all free, you don’t have to pay for a thing,” Biden said. “It has nothing to do […] with whether or not you have an insurance policy. This is a crisis, we are at war with a virus, it has nothing to do with co-pays or anything. You just pass the laws that you do not have to pay for any of this period.”

Mack Shelley, Iowa State professor and chair of the political science department, said neither Biden nor Sanders can win without the other’s support, due to Biden pulling more support from African American voters and Sanders pulling more support from Latinos and youth voters.

Shelley said this ethnic divide could be a problem the party is facing during this election. During the debate, Biden said he would have a woman as his running mate and Sanders said he is considering that as well.

“Traditionally a vice presidential candidate is chosen to help balance out a ticket, to help you in an area that you need support,” Shelley said.

Shelley said neither candidate outperformed the other but in this time of crisis the two candidates were trying to prove their leadership skills to voters.

“The two of them were Biden basically says he has been there and done that as Obama’s vice president, and to a lesser extent, in his time in the Senate,” Shelley said. “Sanders was referring to pretty regularly votes he had taken that were largely in opposition to the positions Biden had taken, suggesting that being able to vote against your party in some case or to take a less popular position is an indication of leadership. Leadership is crucial right now because in the face of a global crisis that is kind of what everybody is looking for.”