Immigration was all but absent in the last Democratic Presidential debate. Yet this debate, where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders went mano a mano on healthcare, was by far the most relevant to Latinos.
Latinos have seen the biggest gains in coverage following the Affordable Care Act, but they remain the racial and ethnic group with the highest rate of uninsured - one third of nonelderly Latinos have neither private insurance nor Medicaid. Not surprisingly healthcare ranks as one of the most important issues for Latinos - consistently above immigration. In the 2014 Midterm election 86 percent of Latino registered voters said that healthcare was either very or extremely important to them personally while 73 percent of Latinos indicated that immigration was very or extremely important to them.
Two hours before the NBC - YouTube debate the Sanders Presidential campaign released its healthcare plan. Under a Sander's administration the United States would have Medicare-for-All system. This single payer system would rely on increased taxes especially for the wealthiest Americans.
The topic of healthcare was the principal domestic policy issue of discussion. The back and forth between Sanders and Clinton boiled down to Sanders wanting to replace Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with Universal Healthcare and Clinton wanting to improve upon the ACA.
Secretary Clinton highlighted the uphill struggle the ACA has faced and noted that a single payer system would not be attainable in the face of Republican opposition. Clinton focused on the positive gains that have been made while recognizing that there is still a long way to go. A recent set of findings bolsters Clinton's point in that the rate of uninsured Latinos children has reached an all time low.
She also stated that the present healthcare system provides a path to universal healthcare. Rather than deal in abstract idealism Clinton went for the pragmatic - improve what we have and further pave the way to universal healthcare.
"We've accomplished so much already. I do not want to see the Republicans repeal it. And I don't wanna see us start over again with a contentious debate. I want us to defend and build on the Affordable Care Act and improve it," said Clinton.
In contrast, Senator Sanders highlighted what the ACA has not been able to accomplish.
"But right now what we have to deal with is the fact that 29 million people still have no health insurance. We are paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, getting ripped off. My proposal, provide health care to all people, get private insurance out of health insurance, lower the cost of health care for middle class families by 5,000 bucks," said Sanders.
There is a clear line in the sand between both Democratic front-runners on healthcare. On the issue of immigration and even economic issues such as the minimum wage the candidate differences are relatively minor.
The issue of immigration is irrelevant in the Democratic primary. This is not to say that it is unimportant for the 2016 election. Immigration is playing a critical role in the GOP primary and will be a focal issue in the general election.
But for Latinos, the majority of which identify with or lean toward the Democratic party, immigration is not a game changer in the primaries. One of the defining issues will be healthcare.Last night's debate just scratched the surface of the healthcare showdown that will be taking place over the next several months. For each of the campaigns the question is how they can best make the case to Latinos the group most affected by the issue of healthcare.