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Here’s where the Democratic candidates stand on healthcare

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There’s a reason the Democratic debates spent so much time on healthcare — it emerged as one of the most contentious battles in the presidential primary.

“Medicare for all,” and how candidates line up for or against it, is the biggest healthcare issue, a proxy war for the broader philosophical fight between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party. But there’s a lot more to healthcare policy than Medicare for all.

Most of the Democratic candidates delved into some of the other major issues pertaining to Americans’ well-being, including combating the opioid crisis, expanding mental health treatment and addressing the country’s poor maternal-health outcomes.

All the candidates supported abortion rights and back codifying into federal law the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs. Wade that legalized the procedure nationwide. They also supported repealing the Hyde amendment, which largely prohibits federal dollars from paying for abortions.

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Now that there are just two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, here’s a look at what they propose:

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Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

Joe Biden has been a vocal critic of Medicare for all, arguing that it would be too costly.

Instead, the former vice president proposes building on the Affordable Care Act by offering a public health insurance option that would be financed primarily through higher taxes on capital gains. People could also stay on their employer-based coverage or buy into a private plan on their own.

Biden’s plan would increase tax credits to ensure no one is spending more than 8.5% of their income on insurance. To lower drug prices, he would allow the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, and he wants to limit launch prices for drugs that face no competition and to limit price increases for all brand and biotech drugs and high-priced generics to inflation. He would allow consumers to import drugs from other countries, as long as they are certified safe, and would terminate drug companies’ tax breaks for marketing costs.

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Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is the candidate most closely associated with Medicare for all. After all, as he likes to say, he “wrote the damn bill!”

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Sanders’ plan would do away with private insurance companies. Instead, his proposal would cover all residents, including those without legal status, under a government-run plan that would have no out-of-pocket costs for consumers except for prescription drugs. He has proposed financing the plan through a payroll tax on employers, higher income taxes on families making more than $29,000 per year and higher taxes on the wealthy.

The government would negotiate with drugmakers over prescription prices, and he would also allow patients, pharmacists and wholesalers to buy from Canada and other industrialized countries. To reduce costs, the Vermont senator wants to peg medication prices to the median drug price in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan.

He has taken a tough line on drug manufacturers, introducing legislation to prohibit illegal marketing and distribution of opioids and calling for criminal liability for drug company executives and for manufacturers to reimburse the country for the negative effects of their products.

To address shortages of healthcare providers, especially in the mental health fields, he wants to increase funding for the National Health Service Corps.

Where the Democratic candidates stand ...