3 presidential candidates talk about varying health-care plans at Cedar Rapids AARP forum

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Rep. John Delaney, and Sen. Michael Bennet discuss their healthcare plans and issues facing elderly Americans at the third AARP and Des Moines Register forum in Cedar Rapids


Julia DiGiacomo

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaks at AARP forum in Cedar Rapids on July 18.

Julia DiGiacomo, Politics Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS — Three presidential candidates laid out their ideas to improve American’s access to health care during Iowa’s third forum sponsored by AARP and The Des Moines Register, which focused on issues affecting aging Americans.

Each of the featured candidates — Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet — sketched out their stances on innovating and expanding health-care options for Americans through variations of Medicare for all and universal health-care options.

Gabbard was the lone candidate at the forum who touted Medicare for all, which she said would ultimately bring down the country’s overall cost spent on health care by streamlining the system, bringing down the cost of prescription drugs, and reducing insurance overhead prices to 2 to 3 percent.

Gabbard also touched on her history as a veteran and called for breaking down barriers that prevent veterans from receiving resources from a Veterans Affairs Hospital. She said she has received quality care from the VA in the past but recognizes it can be difficult to navigate the services available.

Bennet opposed Medicare for all, saying it would remove health-care options from the 180 million Americans who receive insurance through their employers. He said his universal health-care system, “Medicare X,” would allow Americans to either choose free public options or remain with their current private insurance.

After undergoing surgery for prostate cancer in April, Bennet also called for further investment in cancer research and pointed to universal health care as crucial.

“This is why we need universal health-care coverage in America,” Bennet said to an audience of about 120. “If I hadn’t had [health-care] coverage, I would be sitting here talking to you with prostate cancer instead of having had it cured.”

Delaney presented his “Better Care” health system, which he described as a universal health-care program that would leave Medicare alone while providing Americans with a new basic health-care plan, similarly to the Affordable Care Act. He also criticized health-care plans that take people off their current insurance as “terrible policy and terrible politics.”

“What Better Care does is allow you to have options,” Delaney said. “So if you don’t want the government plan, you can opt out, get a tax credit, buy your own health care, or you can take that tax credit and give it to your employer.”

Presidential-candidate forums have been held this week in Des Moines and Davenport. Two more forums with eight additional candidates will take place July 19 and 20 in Sioux City and Council Bluffs.

Joan Murrin, 71, said she enjoyed the ideas of all three candidates but thought that Delaney and Bennet explained their policies the best. She is undecided on for whom she will caucus .

“I am probably most in tune with people who want to expand the health-care system but still have choices, rather than universal free health care for everybody,” she said.

Bennet’s and Delaney’s ideas of protecting Social Security stood out for Cindy Koehler, 63, at the forums. She said that as a senior citizen and a person with a disability, the issue of elder abuse is a topic that she had hoped to bring up to the candidates. She has gone through a battle involving bullying because of her disability in the past, she said. Koehler also wants more grants to help with safety-related home repairs in the houses of the elderly and people with disabilities.

“Because right now, for two of the grant programs we have in Iowa, I’m outside the service-delivery area,” Koehler said. “And we need something that would help anyone.”