Sen. Bernie Sanders' plan is likely going nowhere in a GOP-controlled Congress
A poll from July found 53% of Americans backed a national health care plan
When Sen. Bernie Sanders did this in 2013, he did it alone.
On Wednesday, nearly four years later, Sanders introduced a new “Medicare for all” health care bill with a third of the Senate Democratic caucus by his side.
Flanked at first by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Sanders called the costs of the current system “insane and unaffordable,” promising that the average family would benefit financially under his plan “because you will no longer be writing checks to private insurance companies.”
For those whose taxes would go up, he added, “that expense will be more than offset by the money are you are saving with the elimination of private insurance costs.”
Sanders said he planned to take the bill on the road to “every state in the country and hear what the people have to say” for a roving national workshop. But the outreach came with a warning. He fired a shot across the bow of Republicans likely to oppose the bill, saying the GOP had “no credibility on the issue of health care.”
“To my Republican colleagues, please don’t lecture us on health care,” Sanders roared to applause from the dozens of activists in the room. “In the last few months, you, the Republican Party have shown the American people what you stand for” by largely voting to dismantle Obamacare.
Taking her turn, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren framed the push for single payer as the latest step in a long liberal project to expand access to medical care – from Franklin Roosevelt’s social security to Medicare and Medicaid under Lyndon Johnson and, most recently, Barack Obama’s signature legislation.
“But we are here today to take another step,” she said. “We will not back down in our protection of the Affordable Care Act, we will defend it at every turn, but we will go further – we will go further and we will say that in this country, everyone gets the right to basic health care.”
Before Sanders’ remarks, supporters shared personal, often visceral accounts of doctors currently struggling to provide care and patients in need. An oncology nurse drew gasps in the room as she recounted the story of a cancer patient who could not afford to continuously empty the fluid building up in her lungs. The price of drainage bags, she said, was only covered in part by insurance, forcing the woman to ration her use.
The legislation unveiled on Wednesday afternoon in Washington arrived a little more than six weeks after the party’s all-hands fight to preserve Obamacare secured a narrow reprieve on the Senate floor. Sanders’ plan, though dead-on-arrival in a Republican-controlled Congress, offers a blueprint for fundamentally reshaping the American health care system by moving the country to a government-run, single-payer program.
Under Sanders’ proposal, Americans would receive a “Universal Medicare card” that would be a ticket to comprehensive health care services, including hospital stays, doctor visits, substance abuse treatment, dental, vision and reproductive care – including abortion.
However, consumers may have to pay up to $250 out-of-pocket for prescription drugs, with incentives to use generic medications. Sanders, who’s been vocal about lowering drug prices, would allow the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies.
Long-term care, which Sanders had included in the version he unveiled during his presidential campaign last year, will not be covered. It will be addressed in separate legislation, an adviser to Sanders told CNN.
The bill calls for the elimination of premiums for private health insurance, deductibles and co-pays. However, most Americans and businesses will pay what Sanders says is a much smaller share of their income to fund the program.
While the new legislation has not yet been scored, the program Sanders pitched on the campaign trail came with an estimated annual price tag of nearly $1.4 trillion, to be paid for in part by a proposed new 2.2% income tax on all Americans, a 6.2% levy on employers and a further round of tax hikes on the wealthy.
California Sen. Kamala Harris made the business-friendly case for single-payer. (Or, as one lefti