Bernie Sanders introduces universal healthcare plan, gets Democratic support

UPDATE — 9/20, 11:30 a.m. EDT: A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday shows that almost half of all U.S. voters, 49 percent, support an exclusively government-run healthcare system, while 35 percent oppose.

Such a proposal enjoys support from two-thirds of self-described Democrats, up from 54 percent in April, while only 33 percent of Republicans favor a single-payer system.

 

In a widely anticipated move Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation that would provide universal healthcare to American citizens.

Also known as “Medicare for all,” the bill was co-sponsored by 11 Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Similar legislation already exists in the House, introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich)., which currently has 117 co-sponsors.

Under a single-payer system, the state or a quasi-state bureau organizes financing for health insurance, but delivery of healthcare services remains to some extent in the hands of the private sector.

Similarly, Sanders’ plan covers all medically necessary services, including costs involving physician visits, hospital stays, preventative care, vision, dental, mental health, and prescription.

The program would be funded exclusively by federal tax dollars, phased in over a four-year period, with individuals 18 and younger being enrolled in Medicare immediately.

Mr. Sanders kicked off his push for the massive health-care expansion with an opinion piece in the Wednesday edition of the New York Times.

“The solution to this crisis is not hard to understand.  A half-century ago, the United States established Medicare.  Guaranteeing comprehensive health benefits to Americans over 65 has proved to be enormously successful, cost-effective, and popular.  Now is the time to expand and improve Medicare to cover all Americans,” the Vermont democratic socialist wrote.

Announcing his new campaign to bring free healthcare to all, Sanders tweeted a call to take on the special interests in Washington who will lobby against the bill.

Although Sanders first introduced a similar measure in 2013, he was unable to gain a single co-sponsor or broad support in the upper chamber of Congress.  This time, however, he has attracted broader support in the Senate, as it is estimated as much as one-third of the Democratic caucus will publicly endorse the bill.

Among the bill’s announced supporters:  Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Al Franken (D-Min.), Jeff Merkeley (Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

While Sanders’ idea has become more mainstream just four short years following his first drive to overhaul the healthcare system, his bill has not convinced a single GOP member of the Senate and a handful of fellow Democrats have already announced they will not support the measure, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Preferring to focus efforts on “fixing” ObamaCare and finding different solutions to improve healthcare, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), for example, has stated a Medicare for all bill is “premature.”  DNC Chairman Tom Perez said Tuesday the party is “90 percent of the way there,” on universal health coverage, but, “different Democrats may have different pathways to get there, and that is the debate that will ensue.”

Joining McCaskill are Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Chris Murphy (Conn.), both potential presidential candidates in 2020, have their own Medicare expansion plans, which may be more appealing to moderates.

“There’s a Sanders grassroots that aims to pressure Democrats to support (his legislation) and make it a litmus test, which would be a disaster,” said Jim Kessler of the centrist think tank Third Way.

Responding to the nuts-and-bolts of the bill, Washington’s largest health insurance lobbyist group issued a statement saying universal healthcare “cannot work.”

“(Medicare for all) will eliminate choice, undermine quality, put a chill on medical innovation, and place an even heavier burden on hardworking taxpayers,” said America’s Health Insurance Plans’ David Merritt.

 

Editor’s note: This article was updated on 9/16 at 5:51 p.m. EDT.

 

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