Sanders Releases Most Popular Single-Payer Bill In History

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, along with 16 Democrat co-sponsors, released a bill that would transform Medicare into a single-payer health care system.

“Health care for all is not only a moral issue, it is an economic issue,” Sanders said Wednesday at the Capitol building. “Our job is to lead the world on health care, not be woefully behind every other major country … The American people want to know what we’re going to do to fix a dysfunctional health care system which costs us twice as much,” per capita as any other comparable nation, Sanders said.

The Democratic senators co-sponsoring Sanders’ bill include: Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Pat Leahy of Vermont, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Tom Udahl of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Al Franken of Minnesota, Kristine Gillibrand of New York, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Corey Booker of New Jersey, Camala Harris of California, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

The Medicare-For-All bill would expand Medicare into a national health insurance program, making every American citizen, including the 28 million who don’t have health insurance under Obamacare, eligible for the program. While the bill wouldn’t come into full effect for four years, it would allow children under the age of 18 to participate within the first year of its enactment.

“Under Medicare for all, the average American family will be much better off financially than under the current system because you will no longer be writing checks to private insurance companies,” Sanders said.

One of the main criticisms of the bill leading up to Wednesday was how Sanders was going to fund the program. Funding has always been a concern for single-payer bills in the past, but Sanders has laid out a few potential ways solve that problem.

Under his plan, employers could face a 7.5 percent payroll tax that would go towards employees’ health care. Sanders expects businesses to save roughly $9,000 in health care costs for the average employee under this plan. Sanders is also floating a 4.5 percent premium paid by households. He is additionally considering levying a progressive income-tax on the nation’s wealthiest earners to fund the program.

The Vermont senator tried in 2013 to put forth a previous version of the bill, but failed to garner a single Democrat behind his proposal.

Sanders has brought forth the most popular single-payer bill to hit the national political stage. Top Democratic hopefuls for president in 2020 — Warren, Booker, Gillibrand and Harris — are not only throwing their weight behind the bill, they are attaching their names to it. Even the House Democratic Caucus is on board with single-payer.

While the bill doesn’t have the backing of all of the Democratic leadership, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has notably withheld her support for the legislation, it does appear to be rallying Democrats around the idea of single-payer.

Blumenthal, one of the most recent senators to jump on board Sanders’ bill, said Tuesday that the Medicare-For-All bill is “an idea whose time has come.” He also worked to ensure his colleagues that may be weary to support it that Sanders bill is in no way about “scrapping it [Obamacare],” but rather about “building on it.”

Sanders introduced a number of physicians Wednesday that practice different forms of medicine, from pediatrics to oncology, in various regions across the U.S. The physicians made the case for Sanders’ Medicare-For-All bill, painting it as an essential way to reform a system that is hard for medical professionals to navigate and is dominated by major insurance companies and hospital systems that seek to make a profit over provide quality care.

“Let’s put an end to a system that puts profits before patient needs,” an oncologist said Wednesday at the bill’s unveiling.

The senator echoed the doctor’s comment, saying the crisis facing American health care today “is a political crisis, which speaks to the incredible power of the insurance companies, drug companies and those who make billions.”

“Today we say the function of a rational health care system is to provide quality care in a cost effective away. Not to allow insurance companies make hundreds of billions of dollars each year. The function of a good health care system is to enable people to get that health care when they need that health care,” Sanders said.

Sanders called out Republicans as having “no credibility” on health care, after failing to repeal and replace Obamacare for the first seven months of President Donald Trump’s first year in office.

On the same day that Sanders released his single-payer bill, GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Dean Heller of Nevada and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin released legislation to repeal and replace major portions of Obamacare with a system of block grants.

“Behind me is the only thing between you and single-payer health care,” Graham said Wednesday. “If you believe repealing and replacing Obamacare is a good idea, this is your best and only chance to make that happen.”

The bill would replace Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, subsidies for private insurance companies (cost-sharing reductions) and tax-credits for middle-income Americans with block grants. The new funding mechanism would start in 2020 and would provide states with the opportunity to apply for grants from a pool of $136 billion. That pool would grow nearly 50 percent in six years, reaching $200 billion in 2026. The legislation does not provide permanent funding for the block grant program, funding would have to be addressed again in 2026.

The legislation does include two features of previous Republican proposals to repeal Obamacare. It would repeal both the individual and employer mandates to purchase insurance, which consumers and businesses have lamented since 2014.

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