Sens. Graham and Sanders Agree: Don't Send Taxpayer Money to Insurance Companies

By Susan Jones | September 26, 2017 | 7:30am EDT
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) find a rare moment of agreement -- sort of -- at a CNN-sponsored town hall debate on health care on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. (Photo: Screen grab from CNN)

( - It was a "whoa!" moment for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Monday night when Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said something about health care on which they both agree:

"The biggest winner under Obamacare is insurance companies, not patients, and I intend to change that," Graham told a CNN-sponsored town hall on health care.

"Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa! I like that!" Sanders said, jumping to his feet.

Graham and Sanders agree that taxpayer dollars should not be enriching insurance companies, but that's where the agreement ends.

Sanders advocates a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system of health insurance, while Graham argued for his Republican plan to send Obamacare funds to the states in the form of block grants. Graham said that would improve accountability and encourage innovation.

Graham's plan is unlikely to pass, given the three Republicans who have said they will vote against it. Likewise, Sanders' plan will go nowhere in a Republican-led Congress.

The town hall debate shed no new light on the two sides' firmly held positions, but at least it allowed the Democrats and Republicans to argue their points civilly and publicly.

Here's one exchange between Graham and Sanders:

"Senator Graham, you've worked with Democrats on lots of issues. Do you support the notion of the president just sitting down with Democratic leaders and finding a compromise on this?" moderator Dana Bash asked Graham:

I'll sit down with anybody to talk about anything that matters as long as I think I've got a chance to deliver. I believe climate change is real. Let's don't talk about it, let's fix it. I think the Dream Act kids deserve a place to stay and we secure our border. I'm even willing to do the minimum wage, Bernie, if we can find a tax cut that works, but what I'm not going to do is continue the same old crap and tell you everything is fine.

Let me tell you what's happened since Obamacare passed. Anybody have stock in Anthem? These are the Big Blues. 270 percent increase. Humana, 420 percent increase. Aetna, 470 percent increase. Cigna, 480 percent increase. Where's the money going? It's going to insurance companies who are not delivering for you.

We had five insurance companies in South Carolina, we're down to one, and Amy, what I'm not going to do is take more taxpayer dollars and give it to a bunch of insurance companies. Here's what I want to do. Take basically the same amount of money flow it back to the states in a fair way, and give South Carolina a chance to come up with a better health care system for South Carolina. Give Alaska a chance to do what makes sense for Alaska.

If that's radical, god help us all because here's what I believe. People in South Carolina actually care about each other. Preexisting conditions are going to be covered in every state, and there's going to be different ways to get there.

But if you send the money and power back to the states, and we have to do the same old thing under Obamacare, how do you expect a different outcome? The biggest winner under Obamacare is insurance companies, not patients, and I intend to change that.

"Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa! I like that!" Sanders said.

Graham interjected that he's not endorsing "Medicare for nobody," which Sanders wants to do.

"So Lindsey, there it is!" Sanders said. He continued:

He (Lindsey) actually said something that was right.  What he pointed out -- I'm extrapolating a little bit, but what he pointed out is, is why do we have -- why do we end up spending twice as much per capita on health care as any other country? And Lindsey is right.  This system is designed to make billions of dollars in profits for the insurance industry.

We spend 12 to 18 percent to administer the incredibly complex hundreds of plans that we currently have. With these guys if they got their way, there would be even more plans, more bureaucracy, more complexity, more money going to the insurance companies. Medicare, the administration of Medicare, costs approximately 2 percent.

So if we are serious about moving to a cost effective universal health care, yeah, we do have to take on the insurance companies. They do not play a role in providing health care. Our money should be going to doctors, to nurses, the hospitals, not to the insurance industry or in fact the drug industry which is charging us by far the highest prices in the world.

"Senator Graham, you were shaking your head," Dana Bash said. "Is the bromance over already?"

"No,no, no," Graham replied. "Bernie is the most honest person in the Senate because he believes in government running health care from cradle to grave. All I would say is that Medicare is coming unraveled.

"By 2038, the trust fund is going to run out of money. And If you're 62 like me and you've worked all your life and you're about to get on Medicare, it's a bad idea to have 200 of your closest friends to join you. Because that's Medicare for nobody."

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