Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered a frustrated small-business owner concerned about the impact of Obamacare regulations an answer he knew she would "not be happy with" Tuesday night at a CNN health care debate.
LaRonda Hunter told Sanders that she employs just fewer than 50 people at five hair salons in Fort Worth, Texas, but because of her small profit margin, she can't afford to provide health insurance for all of her employees, and because of Obamacare regulations, she can't afford to expand.
Under Obamacare, small businesses with fewer than 50 workers are exempt from having to provide health coverage. As a result, many business owners have kept their staff numbers below that threshold to avoid incurring extra health costs. Republicans point to these regulations costing Americans jobs, but Democrats often boast that the law has resulted in about 20 million more Americans being covered than before.
During Tuesday night's CNN health care debate between Sanders, an avowed socialist who supports a "medicare for all" health care system, and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who advocates for a free market-based health care system, Hunter confronted Sanders, asking how she can possibly grow her business, given the regulations of Obamacare.
Before giving his response, Sanders acknowledged that Hunter probably wouldn't like what he was about to say.
"Let me give you an answer you will not be happy with," Sanders said.
The onetime Democratic presidential candidate then added:
I think that for businesses that employ 50 people or more, given the nature of our dysfunctional health care system right now where most people do get health insurance through the places that they work, I'm sorry, I think that in America today everybody should have health care and if you have more than 50 people, you know what, I'm afraid to tell you, but I think you will have to provide health care.
Hunter followed up by asking how she can afford to provide health insurance for all her employees without either raising prices or lowering wages.
Joking that he's "not much of an expert on hairdressing in general," Sanders guessed that there is another employer in Hunter's city that does provide health insurance and that because Hunter doesn't offer it, those other businesses "are in an unfair competitive situation."
"You can compete and maybe charge lower prices, get business, while they on the other hand might be providing decent health insurance," Sanders said.
The Texas business owner called that theory into question, however, by saying the profit margins for employers in her "entire" industry are "about the same."
Once again admitting that he "certainly [doesn't] know much about hair salons in Fort Worth," Sanders repeated his statement.
"But I do believe if you have more than 50 people, you should be providing health insurance," Sanders concluded.
Sanders: I believe that if you're employing more than 50 people, then you should be providing health insurance https://t.co/iGCmlCp6l8
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 8, 2017