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Presidential Hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand Kicks Off Rust Belt Campaign Tour In Pittsburgh

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) shakes hands at a campaign event in Pittsburgh.

Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand kicked off a string of campaign events in Pittsburgh Thursday, where she held a roundtable discussion on rising prescription drug prices with area health care employees. 

The New York senator didn’t hesitate to criticize the president on her “Trump’s Broken Promises” tour.

“He never intended on making health care a right not a privilege,” she said. “I remember he said, ‘I'm gonna make the best health care, it will be universal, better and cheaper.’ Is our health care universal, better and cheaper under President Trump? No, it's not.”

Gillibrand supports a Medicare-for-all system. Under her plan, people could buy insurance through Medicare by paying up to 5 percent of their income. Ultimately, Gillibrand believes that system would transition to a single-payer model in which the government would provide insurance coverage.

“I believe that if we offer Medicare for all, and have a transition period of maybe four or five years, most Americans would be part of it,” Gillibrand said. “That's how you get to single payer, and that's how you have economies of scale to lock in the lowest price for drugs.”

Gillibrand also said she would use resources from multiple federal agencies to go after drug manufacturers who inflate the prices of their medications.

Gillibrand was joined in the discussion by local health care workers, including UPMC employees who shared stories of being burdened by cumbersome medical expenses not paid for by the hospital giant's health coverage.

“Clearly [UPMC] is getting tax benefits for saying they're a not-for-profit organization but if they charge you $225,000 for five days in the hospital -- that is the definition of corruption," she said in response to one man’s story.

On trade, Gillibrand, was also swift to criticize Trump, saying she would have never signed his trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. Approval of that agreement is pending in Congress, while Gillibrand said trade fights with other countries were hurting many Americans.

“All we've seen from President Trump is tantrum after tantrum,” she said. “He's started a trade war with China, which has really harmed us. It's evaporated markets for dairy, for soybeans, for manufacturing -- here in Pennsylvania we have a lot of manufacturing as well. You have to be able to stand up to bad actors ... but the way President Trump's done it has been so erratic.”

Gillibrand is the third presidential candidate to come to Pittsburgh this year, following former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who held rallies in April. Andrew Yang visited Pittsburgh last fall.

Gillibrand was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2009 to replace former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She's been an outspoken critic of sexual assault in the military, and was the first to call on former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to resign following sexual harassment allegations.

Polls typically show Gillibrand with support of less than one percent. Her bus tour will continue with stops that include Cleveland, Ohio and Flint, Mich.

Lucy Perkins is an editor and also reports on federal government and elections for the Government and Accountability team. Before joining the WESA newsroom, she was an NPR producer in Washington, D.C., working on news programs like All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. You can reach her at lperkins@wesa.fm.