Healthcare

Sanders: Speed of Medicare for All plan is a 'major difference' with Warren

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Tuesday that one of the "major differences" between himself and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is in how quickly they would roll out "Medicare for All," drawing a contrast on the key campaign issue. 

Sanders and Warren are vying for the progressive mantle in the Democratic presidential primary, but they have largely shied away from criticizing each other. Sanders, however, did point to some daylight on his signature issue of Medicare for All when asked on Tuesday by NBC News reporter Vaughn Hillyard how he would contrast himself with Warren.

"I'm not into attacking my colleagues," Sanders told NBC. "We're about differentiating differences of issues. And I think maybe one of the major differences is what I have said over and over again and I just repeated it right now, in my first week in office we will introduce a Medicare for All, single-payer program."

Warren, in contrast, is not calling for introducing full-scale Medicare for All in her first week in office. She instead has a plan to pass an optional government-run health insurance plan as a first step in her first 100 days in office. Only by her third year in office does she call for passing additional legislation to implement full-scale Medicare for All. 

Backers of Warren's approach say it could be more realistic first to pass an optional program as a stepping stone to full Medicare for All, given resistance to fully abolishing private health insurance among many Senate Democrats whose votes will be needed to pass a bill. 

Sanders, however, prides himself on pushing right away for full-scale Medicare for All, which would effectively abolish private health insurance, saying he will harness public pressure on Congress, even if it will be very difficult to get it passed.

"Senator Warren's position is a little bit different," Sanders said. "Check it out. Her transition period is quite different than ours."

He touted that his proposal would expand Medicare benefits to cover dental, vision and hearing care and lower the eligibility age to 55 within the first year of a four-year transition plan under his legislation. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, more moderate candidates, are touting an optional government-run health insurance plan while allowing people to keep their private insurance if they wanted.

Sanders pushed back forcefully on those plans on Tuesday, as he has in the primary debates as well. 

Asked why the country should not go with the public option proposed by Biden and Buttigieg, Sanders replied, "because it doesn't work."

He noted there would still be some cost to patients in premiums under Biden and Buttigieg's plans. 

"How much does the public option cost? Have you got the number? What's the number exactly?" Sanders asked.  

"The current system, which they are defending, with minor tweaks, is far and away the most expensive system in the world," he added.

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