Democrats, Republicans face off on health care


Hannah Heisler | Staff Photographer

Pitt College Republicans’ Corey Barsky (far left) and Phil Saggese (center left) listen as Pitt College Democrats’ Mackenzie Coat (center right) and Maureen Hartwell (far right) speak during Monday evening’s health-care debate.

By Neena Hagen, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt College Republicans member Corey Barsky noted early in a Monday night debate against the College Democrats that health care is an issue that brings out passion from both ends of the political spectrum.

“I like to think I have more empathy on this issue than most people,” the sophomore neuroscience major said. “As I sit here right now, I have four diagnosed pre-existing conditions.”

Health care topped the list of issues that mattered to voters in 2018’s midterm elections, and contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are already staking out positions on American health insurance.

The issue was one that the two clubs and the Pitt Libertarians touched on in a 2017 three-way debate. But Monday’s two-way hour-long debate, hosted by Pitt’s chapter of HOSA Future Health Care Professionals, was devoted entirely to the question of health care.

A two-person team representing each party outlined a preferred policy — for the Democrats, a single-payer Medicare for All plan, and for the Republicans, a free-market-based private system — before answering questions from the other side and from the audience.

Maureen Hartwell, a first-year political science major and debater for the Pitt Democrats, said single-payer was the only system that would ensure every American has health care.

“Health care is a human right,” Hartwell said. “It is elitist of us to deny health care based on income because we’re essentially telling people their lives are worthless.”

The Pitt College Democrats maintained that universal health care was not only morally superior to a free-market alternative, but it would also drive down health-care costs for the average American and small businesses.

“[A single-payer system] ensures fewer administrative costs and better health outcomes for the American people,” Hartwel l said. “Under a single-payer system, as long as you are a certified member of a region where single-payer is practiced … you will receive health care.”

By contrast, Pitt College Republicans argued that a free-market competition would make health care more affordable.

“A free-market economy always drives prices down,” Barsky said. “If I were on government health care, they would jack prices up because they’d know I only have one place to get health care.”

Barsky’s debating partner Phil Saggese, a junior political science major, said universal health care in the United States is not financially feasible, even if the policy has good intentions. He cited California’s failed attempt to pass statewide universal health care to show why it wouldn’t work on a national level.

“In 2017, California, one of the more liberal states in the country, proposed a plan for Medicare for All,” Saggese said. “But this plan was scrapped when the economic output came forward. It cost residents $400 billion … more than double the state’s entire budget.”

Saggese asked Democrats how they planned to pay for universal health care, given that it had already failed in the country’s “most progressive state.”

“Universal health care would put an end to all medical bankruptcies … leading to a healthier and richer nation,” Hartwell responded.  “It’ll benefit businesses because private companies can now free up the funds they spend on employees’ health insurance for other areas of their business. It’ll help the economy because, axiomatically, people work better when they’re living healthier lives.”

While Democrats and Republicans ultimately disagreed on an ideal health-care system in America, there was one thing they did agree on — the Affordable Care Act, which was put in place during Obama’s presidency and still stands, fails to provide Americans with high-quality, affordable coverage.

“The United States health-care system is failing us,” Hartwell said. “In 2015, the third leading cause of death in America was a medical error. Our health-care system is ranked 28th internationally, according to the United Nations, and 28 million Americans have no coverage. This is all unacceptable.”

Saggese commended President Donald Trump for reversing Obama-era health-care policies. The president signed Right to Try laws in 2018, which allowed terminally ill patients to access treatments not approved by the FDA, and also repealed the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, which required Americans who didn’t have health insurance to pay a fine.

HOSA member and junior biology major Vijay Vedachalam said those are the kinds of political talking points that future health-care professionals value hearing.

“One of the moral dilemmas in the medical field is determining how we treat the uninsured population,” he said. “I think this is an important discussion for HOSA members.”

Michael Clifford, a first-year economics major, who raised his hand for nearly the entire debate trying to ask debaters a question, said he came into the debate with strong opinions about health-care policy, but he wanted to see how those stacked up against the opposition.

“I definitely agreed with the Republican side a lot more,” Clifford said. “But regardless of which facts I wanted to dispute, I commend both sides for being respectful towards each other and bringing up good points.”

Vedachalam echoed Clifford’s point, saying the debate was a productive learning experience for everyone involved.

“Both sides’ plans are certainly worth taking a look at to decide what’s best for our country and ultimately our citizens,” Vedachalam said.

Editor’s note: Maureen Hartwell writes for The Pitt News.