Sanders enjoys big moment with single-payer unveiling

Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) unveiled his single-payer health-care plan in a jam-packed Senate hearing room on Wednesday and to millions more watching online and on cable television, highlighting his newfound status as a Capitol Hill power player.

“Here is the simple truth,” Sanders, flanked by nine of his Democratic colleagues, said after walking into the room to cheers and applause.

“Our opponents on this issue have the money and they have the power, but if billions of people across this country stand up, get involved in the political process and fight back, I have no doubt — none whatsoever — that this nation, sooner than people believe, will in fact pass a ‘Medicare for all’ single-payer system, and finally, finally, health care will be a right for all in the United States of America.”

{mosads}In 2013, no one co-sponsored a similar Sanders single-payer bill, and in 2015, when he announced his long-shot presidential bid, a relatively small group of reporters showed up to a park outside the Capitol.

At his hourlong announcement on Wednesday, Sanders spoke to a crowd of about 300, and at times shared the stage with other Democratic stars — and potential rivals if he decides to make another White House run in 2020.

“It is an enormous honor to stand with each of you to say never again does anyone go bankrupt just because they got sick,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), one of the 16 Democratic co-sponsors on the bill.

“We will not back down in our protection of the Affordable Care Act,” said Warren, one of seven Democrats to make remarks at Wednesday’s event.

“We will defend it at every turn, but we will go further, we will go further and we will say in this country everyone, everyone gets a right to basic health care. That’s what Medicare for all is all about, and that’s why we’re here.”

The bill would expand Medicare into a national health insurance program, extending comprehensive health insurance to every U.S. resident. There wouldn’t be any premiums, co-payments or deductibles under the Sanders approach.

The program would be rolled out over a four-year period, with the eligibility age dropping every year until every U.S. resident is covered. Those ages 18 and under would automatically be eligible in the first year.

Health insurance would essentially be separated from employment, as the program would cover a full range of benefits, including inpatient and outpatient hospital care, prescription drugs, mental health and substance abuse treatment and maternity care.

Sanders noted that employees won’t have to be stuck in jobs they don’t want because they’re afraid of losing health insurance, which prompted one supporter to murmur, “Exactly, exactly.”

Materials released in tandem with the bill attempt to thwart one of the biggest criticisms of single-payer — how to pay for it.

Financing options include a 7.5 percent income-based premium to be paid by employers, a 4 percent income-based premium to be paid by households, changes to the estate tax and a new tax on the top 0.1 percent of Americans based on income.

The White House was unimpressed with the Sanders plan.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called it a “horrible” idea.

“I can’t think of anything worse than having government be more involved in your health care instead of less involved,” she said.

She also belittled the Vermont senator, saying that if his ideas were as popular as he thought, he would have won last year’s Democratic primary and been elected president.

“He pushed these ideas forward during the campaign and they were rejected, not just by America but by Democrats,” she said. “He didn’t make it through the primary, he didn’t make it into the Oval. I think that’s a pretty clear indication of what Americans want to see and it’s not single-payer.”

The legislation has no real hope of movement in a Republican-controlled Congress, and even Democratic leaders have stopped short of endorsing it.

Centrists worried about winning reelection in the House and Senate are staying away, even as it seems more and more likely that the path to the Democratic presidential nomination will require an embrace of the issue.

Besides Warren, other potential Democratic presidential candidates signing on to the bill and attending the event included Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.).

Supporters of the bill said they’d look to make improvements to the Affordable Care Act that Trump has called a disaster even as they looked forward to the day where they could drive a single-payer bill through Congress.

“Think about it as a car,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a co-sponsor.

“You want to buy a new car, let’s say next year. In the meantime, your car right now — the one you own — needs a tire change, needs oil.

“So I think we need to continue to improve the Affordable Care Act, but I think it’s feasible that we can do ‘Medicare for all’ in the next few years.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Cory Booker Elizabeth Warren Kirsten Gillibrand Richard Blumenthal
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