Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Bernie Sanders challenged each other Tuesday over whether healthcare itself is an American right versus having "access" to coverage.
"Right is a word you use a lot," Cruz, the Texas Republican, said in a debate with the Vermont independent in a CNN debate on the future of Obamacare at George Washington University in Washington.
"Rights mean you have a right for government not to mess with you, for government not to do things with you," Cruz said.
"What is a right? It's access to healthcare. What is a right is choosing your own doctor.
"If you believe healthcare is a right, why on Earth did you help write Obamacare that caused six million people to have their health insurance canceled, to lose their doctors?" he then asked Sanders.
"You're denying her what you say is her right," he added.
Cruz was referencing a question from a member of audience who was suffering from multiple sclerosis and said she had moved from Texas to Maryland because Maryland expanded Medicaid coverage.
"Access to healthcare is a right."
But Sanders retorted: "You have access right now.
"Go out and get a really great health insurance program. You can't do it? You can't afford it.
"You want to buy one of Donald Trump's mansions? You have access to that as well.
"Access doesn't mean a damn thing," Sanders said. "What it means is whether people can afford it, can get the healthcare that they need — and they can't under Obamacare."
Cruz said that Congress would "absolutely" move "swiftly to repeal Obamacare" — but would work toward "common-sense reform" to aid Americans.
"Now, nobody thinks we're done once Obamacare is repealed," he said. "Once Obamacare is repealed, we need common-sense reform that increases competition, that empowers patients, that puts you in charge of your healthcare rather than empowering Washington bureaucrats to get in the way.
"These are ideas Republicans have been proposing for six years — and for six years, Democrats have been fighting, saying 'no changes at all,' even as people were hurting and losing their coverage."
While Cruz and Sanders differed on other efforts to reform the Affordable Care Act, they pledged to take on the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, to try to keep medical costs down for Americans and increasing choices.
"I would love for us to work together going after Big Pharma and taking on the FDA," Cruz said "Right now, it takes $2 billion to approve a new drug.
"I've written legislation to reform the process so we can be curing diseases and curing people," he said. "I would encourage you to join me in that legislation.
"If someone has a terminal disease, the government won't tell you that you can't try this treatment because the government won't allow it."
Sanders, who lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton, called on Cruz to join him on legislation on a "Medicare-for-all single-payer program, so we're finally going to get private insurance companies out of our lives.
"If you are willing to look at taking on pharma, which is the greediest of the greedy in corporate Washington, I'm going to introduce legislation to have Medicare negotiate prices with the pharmaceutical industry."
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