Fact-Checking the Democratic Debate

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Ten candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination took the stage Thursday night in Houston for third round of debates. Unlike the previous debates, which took place over two evenings, only one night was needed to feature all the candidates who qualified for the showdown.

Here is how the candidates’ remarks stacked up against the truth.

What the Facts are

WHAT Mr. Castro SAID:

“I also worked for President Obama, Vice President Biden, and I know that the problem with your plan is that it leaves 10 million people uncovered.”

Later he added, “The difference between what I support and what you support, Vice President Biden, is that you require them to opt in and I would not require them to opt in, they would automatically be enrolled.”

This is mostly true. Mr. Biden is not backing the “Medicare For All” plan being promoted by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, which would replace all private insurance coverage with a government-run plan.

Mr. Biden wants to expand Obamacare by offering a public option. He says his plan would cover 97 percent of Americans — a figure that Mr. Castro appeared to seize on to justify his statement that the Biden plan would leave 10 million people uncovered. Among them would be undocumented immigrants who would not qualify for the federal subsidies that could help make coverage affordable.

Most people would have to enroll themselves in the public option under Mr. Biden’s plan – leaving the possibility that some will fall through the cracks — but it would automatically enroll millions of low-income people in states that have rejected the option of expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.

What the Facts Are

What MS. Harris Said:

“And so, I took on the position that allowed me, without asking permission, to create one of the first-in-the-nation initiatives that was a model and became a national model around people who were arrested for drugs and getting them jobs. I created one of the first-in-the-nation requirements that a state law enforcement agency would have to wear cameras and keep them on full-time. I created one of the first-in-the-nation trainings for police officers on the issue of racial bias and the need to reform the system.”

This is mostly true. As San Francisco’s district attorney, Ms. Harris created “Back on Track” program in 2005 that gave some young, first-time drug offenders the chance to enroll in a pilot program involving job training, community service and counseling in lieu of jail. As California’s attorney general, Ms. Harris instituted an implicit bias training program in her office. Her record on the use of body-worn cameras is more mixed.

In 2015, Ms. Harris did put in place a policy requiring law enforcement officers working for her office to wear body cameras. But that same year, Ms. Harris opposed statewide regulations mandating local police to do the same and stated she did not believe in a “one-size-fits-all approach.”

Ms. Harris also omitted parts of her record that have generated criticism among criminal justice reform activists, for instance, for her lack of support over a police shooting bill.


WHAT Mr. Sanders SAID:

“You got to defend the fact that 500,000 Americans are going bankrupt. You know why they’re going bankrupt? Because they suffered a terrible disease, cancer, or heart disease.”

This is exaggerated. The number comes from a study based on surveys of people who declared bankruptcy between 2013 and 2016. In that research, more than half of families with bankruptcies said that medical bills or a health crisis contributed to their financial crisis, the latest in a series of such surveys. (Fun fact: Elizabeth Warren was a co-author on earlier installments.) But that research method has been criticized by many scholars, who say asking people whether health problems caused their bankruptcy is not the best way to answer that question.

Another recent study, which followed every Californian who was admitted to a hospital over several years, produced a substantially lower estimate of the number of Americans whose bankruptcies were caused by health problems that involved a hospital stay. But in both studies, it was not just medical bills but the income losses associated with illness that caused financial distress. The 500,000 estimate includes people who cited only health-related income loss as a contributor to their bankruptcy. That is a problem that even universal health insurance would do little to address.

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