Sen. Bernie Sanders is known for his disheveled hair, but he likely won’t be calling LaRonda Hunter’s salons in Fort Worth, Texas, for a shampoo appointment anytime soon.
Hunter, a small-businesswoman who owns five Fantastic Sam’s Salons in Fort Worth, questioned Sanders during Tuesday night’s Obamacare debate with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a 90-minute-long substantive discussion by the two runners-up in the presidential primaries.
Free from the bounds of a looming election, Sanders didn’t hold back when Hunter told him she was prevented from hiring more employees by the Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as Obamacare.
“Let me give you an answer you will not be happy with,” Sanders said. “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.”
“I was nervous at first,” Hunter said in an interview with McClatchy on Wednesday. “I think I stammered a little bit, but then when he wouldn’t really answer my question . . . I got a little aggravated. That’s why I was like, ‘Give that microphone back,’ because he made me mad.”
Hunter then asked how she can afford health insurance coverage without raising prices or lowering wages. Sanders again did not attempt to appease the Fort Worth resident.
“I’m not much of an expert on hairdressing in general, and certainly in Fort Worth,” Sanders said while motioning to his semi-bald head and drawing laughs from the crowd. “One of the problems that we have is that maybe somebody else in Fort Worth is providing decent health insurance to their employees and they are in an unfair competitive situation regarding you.”
Hunter was not pleased with that answer.
“He missed the whole point,” Hunter said. “The profit margin in our industry is very low. I don’t even pay myself a six-figure salary out of my business. If I paid health insurance not only would I not be able to pay myself, we would go out of business. I would be more than happy to continue the debate but they took the microphone away from me.”
Hunter said there was one competitor in Fort Worth that offered health insurance but it was a national company that did more than just hair.
“I think it was a privilege for me to be able to talk to them and to challenge Bernie Sanders,” Hunter said. “I can’t tell you how many insurance agents have been calling me since last night.”
David Levine, CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council, a group of 250,000 businesses that support a single-payer, fully government-run health care system, said businesses that provided health insurance were doing a service to their long-term bottom line.
“Where is that responsibility going to lie? The government’s not responsible? Businesses aren’t responsible? Responsive businesses understand they have a role to play in this,” Levine said.
Cruz was pressed Tuesday night by a former Texan who’d moved to Maryland to receive treatment for multiple sclerosis because Texas had refused to expand the Medicaid program.
“Sen. Cruz, can you promise me that you and the Republican leaders in Congress will actually have a replacement plan in place for people like me who depend on their Medicaid?” asked Carol Hardaway.
Cruz responded that Medicaid is a profoundly troubling program nationally that works for some people, but he did not discuss a replacement plan for Obamacare.
Host Jake Tapper then jumped in.
“Did Sen. Cruz, your former senator, did he answer your question?” Tapper asked.
“No, he did not,” Hardaway said.
Cruz then elaborated that he would allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines, would expand health savings accounts and would allow people to keep their insurance if they switch jobs.
The two senators disagreed on the future of health care. Sanders wants to see a single-payer system akin to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, while Cruz wants the private sector to take the lead in providing insurance.
Cruz even invoked a popular comedy skit to argue that Democrats are unwilling to change Obamacare despite rising premiums.
“I’m reminded of an old ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit with Christopher Walken, where they are playing in a band and he keeps ringing the cowbell,” Cruz said. “It was government control that messed this all up. And Bernie and the Democrats’ solution is more cowbell, more cowbell.”
But the two senators did agree on one thing: Americans should be able to purchase prescription drugs from across the border to save money.
“One area Bernie and I talked about, we agree on, is allowing importation of drugs into this country from other countries where they are cheaper,” Cruz said.
Despite her unhappiness with Sanders’ answers and his lack of familiarity with the Fort Worth salon industry, Hunter said the independent senator from Vermont was welcome anytime in her salons.
“I don’t do the hair, I just pay the bills,” Hunter said. “I’d put him with one of my best stylists. If he came into my salon, I would make sure he understood more about the hair business.”