Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spoke for just 8 minutes and took no questions at an event Tuesday that was billed as a “healthcare press conference.”
Speaking from a hotel in California’s Bay Area, Sanders delivered a familiar set of talking points on his support for universal healthcare.
“Embarrassingly, the U.S. is the only major country on Earth that does not guarantee healthcare,” Sanders said, praising what he called less-wasteful healthcare systems like those in Canada and the United Kingdom.
Sanders also speared pharmaceutical giants for paying out hefty CEO benefits — specifically calling out Pfizer and Merck — while one in five people struggle to pay for their prescriptions.
“It really is criminal,” Sanders said of the approximately $180 million “golden parachutes” for departing CEOs at those companies.
The Vermont senator’s abbreviated remarks came after a pair of energized appearances from healthcare advocates, Dr. Hank Abrons, who leads California’s chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, and RoseAnn DeMoro, who leads National Nurses United.
Both Abrons and DeMoro condemned the healthcare system under ObamaCare, which they said couldn’t be fixed. Sanders, however, took a more cautious approach, acknowledging the law has helped made some “significant” improvements.
“But clearly it has not gone far enough,” he said. He did not specifically mention his own universal healthcare plan, which has been described as “Medicare-for-all.” That plan has been heavily criticized by healthcare experts for its massive costs and disruption to the existing healthcare system.
Sanders’s speech comes one week before the California’s primary, where he hopes to pull off a late victory against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The self-described democratic socialist is towing a fine line on the issue of healthcare in California, where state officials have embraced the Affordable Care Act. The state has heavily invested in developing its own health insurance exchange called “Covered California,” which has been touted as a national model under the healthcare law.
His event had been billed as a “health care press conference” by a list of his campaign appearances sent to reporters on Monday, leaving reporters surprised that Sanders took no questions after the event.
Sanders has been vocal about his support for a single-payer system and his insistence that ObamaCare still needs to be rewritten. The position puts him in stark contrast with Clinton, who has also criticized drug and insurance companies but supports the vast majority of President Obama’s healthcare law.