In third Democratic debate, Sanders and Warren clash with Biden over health care costs

Top Democratic presidential candidates sparred over health care, which has emerged as one of the top issues for voters, in the opening salvo of the third debate in Houston on Thursday

In the run-up to the 2020 election, progressive and moderate candidates have been fiercely divided between those who support sweeping health care under the arm of the government and those who want to keep it public. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have both endorsed Medicare for All, while frontrunner former Vice President Joe Biden has laid out a plan to expand the Affordable Care Act.

But Biden slammed Sanders' and Warren’s endorsement of Medicare for All -- which he said was too costly, challenging how they would be able to pay for it.

“I know [Sen. Warren] says she’s for Bernie,” Biden said. “Well, I’m for Barack. I think ObamaCare worked.”

But Warren, who co-sponsored Sanders’ Medicare for All bill in the Senate, defended the plan, which she said would ultimately cut costs for middle-class families by raising taxes on the wealthy and big corporations. She declined to say whether taxes would raise for the middle-class in order to fund the bill, despite facing past criticism for dodging specifics on her health care proposal.

“Those at the very top, the richest individuals and corporations, are going to pay more,” she said. “And middle-class families are going to pay less. That’s how this is going to work.”

Under the plan Sanders unveiled in 2017, the federal government would, via taxes, finance health care costs for people across the board (although individuals would still be on the hook for some out-of-pocket costs).

During the first Democratic debate in June, he admitted that middle-class taxes would rise in order to pay for the proposal -- but defended the increase, saying insurance premiums were essentially another type of tax.

A family that currently pays $20,000 for private insurance would no longer have to pay that cost in premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, he said. Instead, their taxes would increase by roughly $10,000.

Sanders argued the hefty price tag for the plan -- it could cost $50 trillion over 10 years, he said -- was worth it.

“It’s the most cost-effective approach to every man, woman and child in this country,” he said. “I wrote the damn bill, if I may say so, and it eliminates all out-of-pocket expenses, all deductibles, co-payments.”