Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, on her second visit to Florida since becoming a Democratic presidential candidate, emphasized her support on Tuesday for a universal public health insurance option and also called on the Trump administration to extend Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans.
During a meeting with Venezuelan exiles in Doral, Klobuchar discussed the ongoing political turmoil in Venezuela and said she approved of recent sanctions against the regime of embattled president Nicolás Maduro.
She later met with healthcare experts in Miami where she discussed potential ways of lowering the cost of prescription drugs. She said she would create a public health insurance option in the first year of her presidency but stopped short of endorsing a Medicare-for-all policy that other Democratic candidates support.
“I just want do to get to universal healthcare as quickly as possible,” Klobuchar told reporters after a roundtable discussion on healthcare at the University of Miami's Life Sciences and Technology Park. “Make sure we do it in a way that doesn’t make things worse for people.”
Klobuchar, who announced her run in February, has been selling herself as a pragmatic candidate who can win over strategically important Midwestern voters in 2020. In addition to making infrastructure improvements one of her main priorities, the Democrat has joined her primary competitors in discussing proposals to make healthcare more affordable.
On Tuesday, she mentioned several ways to improve healthcare access and lower drug costs. She said she supports ending a pay for delay practice in which big pharmaceutical companies pay manufacturers not to produce generics.
She also favors importing less expensive prescription drugs from Canada as long as the drugs are not subject to price markups once they reach the U.S. She expressed concerns about such price markups regarding a proposal in the Florida legislature that would allow for Canadian drug imports.
"That would be problematic if you don't require that there are cost savings passed on to the consumers," she said.
Democratic candidates, including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, have expressed support for a single Medicare-for-all plan that could replace private and employer-based health insurance. Klobuchar, however, said she backs a more incremental approach that builds off the Affordable Care Act and either expands Medicaid or lowers the age to qualify for Medicare.
“There are a lot of good ideas out there. But they all move in the same direction, and that is to get to universal healthcare,” she said.
Miami-Dade County has benefitted from the Affordable Care Act, with the area having among the most ACA enrollees in the country. Still, local healthcare professionals at Tuesday’s discussion including Martha Baker—a nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital and president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1991—said affordable healthcare remains out of reach for many residents. The higher costs are in part a result of Florida's refusal to expand eligibility for Medicaid to include all low-income adults.
“So many times you hear the discussion that it’s unaffordable,” Baker said in reference to improving the healthcare system. What we can’t afford is to “keep doing what we’re doing.”
The roundtable also focused on what Klobuchar called a shortage of healthcare workers across the country and the need for more workforce training.
Clint Bower—president of MACtown, which operates group homes for people with disabilities—said his business is suffering from an undersupply of workers that could worsen. Many of his employees are Haitians, who have relied on their Temporary Protected Status to protect them from deportation. The Trump administration had announced it would end TPS for Haitians by January 2020, but a federal judge has so far blocked the order.
Klobuchar said immigrants and expanding TPS protections are critical to addressing the workforce shortages. She said she has fought to extend TPS for Liberians in Minnesota as well as for other immigrants across the country. Now, the Trump administration should also extend the protection to Venezuelans who are fleeing a humanitarian crisis in their home country, she said.
“If you’ve got people who are not getting in trouble, are legal workers when they’re here, those are exactly the kind of people you want to have allowed stay,” Klobuchar said, noting that she signed on to a letter last month to the administration calling for the extension of the program to Venezuelans.
Klobuchar added she agrees with the Trump administration's other actions involving Venezuela, including sanctions against Maduro and shipments of humanitarian aid to the Venezuela-Colombia border.