Bernie Sanders To Introduce Single-Payer Bill With Major Support In Senate – HuffPost

 In U.S.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will introduce on Wednesday a new version of his plan to give everybody government-run health insurance, potentially opening a new chapter in the ongoing debate over how to make health care in the U.S. more affordable and available.

The plan calls for an overhaul of American health insurance with a souped-up, more generous version of Medicare replacing nearly all private health insurance ― and government exerting far more control over the cost of medical care. It would arguably be the most ambitious social welfare initiative in U.S. history, but Sanders told HuffPost in an interview Tuesday that he believes America is ready for it.

“The American people are catching on to where the Republicans are coming from, they see the limitations of the Affordable Care Act and they’re looking at the alternatives,” Sanders said. “And this is a rational alternative.” 

Sanders has been waging a frequently lonely crusade for this kind of universal health care since the early 1990s, when he first came to Congress. In 2013, when he introduced a previous iteration of the bill, he had no support from his colleagues. But in a clear sign of the idea’s increasing popularity, as well as Sanders’ influence within progressive politics, 15 Democratic senators are co-sponsoring the bill.

That’s fully one-third of the Senate Democratic caucus. Staffers told HuffPost they had expected less than half as many senators to sign on, and they attributed the broad appeal to a five-month drafting period in which they solicited input from the offices of 19 senators, including several who they knew never had any intention of getting behind the bill.  

That roster of co-sponsors includes a who’s-who list of potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, including Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Also backing the bill are Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall of New Mexico, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Among the co-sponsors, Baldwin is notably up for re-election in 2018 in a state President Donald Trump won narrowly in November. But Sen. Sherrod Brown, a reliably progressive Democrat up for re-election in Ohio, where Trump won by 8 percentage points, has thus far declined to get behind the bill.

Even with the strong show of support from Democrats, the likelihood of the Sanders proposal passing in the near future would seem to be vanishingly remote, in no small part because the Republicans who control Congress generally don’t believe in universal coverage and are more interested in repealing existing government health programs than creating new ones.

But Sanders thinks support for the idea is growing, making future enactment possible. “You’re seeing it in polling, you’re seeing it in town meetings, you’re seeing the American people waking up and demanding that we end this dysfunctional system and we join the rest of the industrialized world.”

Here’s What Sanders Is Actually Proposing

The proposal, which Sanders is calling the “Medicare for All Act of 2017,” looks a lot like the plan Sanders touted as a presidential candidate. As the name implies, it envisions giving everybody living in the U.S., including undocumented immigrants, an enhanced version of Medicare with virtually no out-of-pocket spending as well as dental, vision and hearing aid coverage. It would more or less wipe out private health insurance and give the federal government the same power to set prices and establish a national health care budget that most other democratic nations have.

The new plan includes one key addition and one key subtraction. In the new bill, Sanders calls for a four-year transition period, during which the newly improved Medicare would first insure all children and adults 55 or older, then expand gradually to cover all adults. (A provision authored by Gillibrand would allow adults to purchase a public health insurance option during the transition period.) That feature wasn’t there before.

But the new bill does not specify how to finance the new health benefits. (An accompanying white paper, which the Sanders office was planning to distribute Wednesday, discusses some possibilities.) That’s a change from the campaign plan, which specified a new set of taxes.

It’s a big change, and an important one. Providing such generous benefits to everybody would require a great deal of new government spending, which would mean new taxes. Sanders and his supporters frequently say this will work out better for the vast majority of Americans in the end, because they would no longer be paying health insurance premiums or out-of-pocket costs. Without specific numbers, it’s impossible to evaluate whether that claim is true.

The difficulty of persuading tens of millions of Americans to give up their current insurance and accept those higher taxes, regardless of what they’d gain in higher wages or lower medical expenses, is just one of the huge political obstacles that would stand in the way of enactment. Another is the likely opposition of virtually every part of the health care industry.

Doctors and hospitals would likely fight the creation of a system that would make them dependent on reimbursements from Medicare, which traditionally pays less than private insurance in order to hold down costs. Insurers would be facing an even more existential threat, since the Sanders proposal doesn’t even envision them offering supplemental or alternative private policies, as they do in many other countries with universal coverage schemes. 

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