Today at a press conference Bernie Sanders will present his plan for a universal single-payer health plan. It will be based on a gradual expansion of the Medicare program over four years to eventually cover everyone, not just those currently over 65 years or those who are younger but have disabilities and a few illnesses. People zero to 18 would be eligible for the coverage in the first year. In following year, the eligibility age would be lowered to 45. The next year, it would drop again to 35. In year four, everyone else would be included. The advantage of expanding Medicare instead of creating a new system is that it does not require a new bureaucracy and those who are on Medicare like what they have.
Sanders’ “single-payer” bill would provide comprehensive coverage for everything from the cost of hospital services, prescription drugs, mental health, maternity and newborn care and dental health.
During the first year of the program, the eligibility age for the Medicare program would drop to 55, and all Americans under 18 would be added to the program. The eligibility age would gradually decrease until the fourth year, when everyone would receive a “universal Medicare card”.
Sanders said of the plan: “You’re going to the same private doctor that you went to. You’re going to go to the same hospital that you went to. The only difference is instead of having a Blue Cross Blue Shield [insurance] card – and having to argue with your insurance company – you’re going to have a Medicare For All card. That’s it.”
Unlike four years ago, when he was the only person to sign on to the bill that he introduced, this time he has much greater support within his own party.
Sanders will formally unveil the bill at a press conference on Wednesday, with the backing of nearly a third of the Democratic caucus in the Senate – a record level of support for a bill he introduced just four years ago with only one signature, his own.
Among the 15 senators co-sponsoring the bill are Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Al Franken – all of whom are rumored to be considering a run for president in 2020.
In the House of Representatives, a majority of Democrats have signed on to a similar measure introduced by John Conyers of Michigan, a bill he has brought forward in every Congress since 2003 without nearly as much support.
Of course, there will be huge opposition to this move from all the Republicans and those Democrats who are beholden to the parasitic health insurance lobby, and by the segments of the health care provider industry too. They will raise the cries of ‘socialized medicine’ and ‘government takeover of health care’ to frighten people. Those who have become reflexively opposed to any Democratic proposal will likely echo those fears. Some older people on Medicare may also object to sharing the system they like with more people, fearing that what they get now may be reduced. But the bill tries to bring them in with some benefits that they don’t get now.
The bill starts by sweetening the pot for seniors who may be wary about welcoming the rest of the country into their warm pool. It eliminates copays and deductions, except for name-brand drugs when generics are available, and adds dental, vision, and hearing aid coverage to Medicare where it didn’t exist before — huge benefits that have long been a goal of public health advocates.
It will be paid for by higher taxes. Some people will object to paying higher taxes, not appreciating that there will no longer be paying for private health insurance and that the overall they will be saving money, not to imagine the huge reduction of stress in not having to deal with the ridiculously complicated current system with its billing nightmares. Sanders of course knows all this.
He acknowledged the hefty price tag. But he argued that the US spends more per capita on healthcare than countries that guarantee healthcare as a right, such as Canada, France and Germany. And despite spending more, 28 million Americans remain uninsured, infant mortality rates are higher and life expectancy is shorter.
Making universal healthcare, an idea once relegated to the fringe of the party and cast as a progressive fantasy, a legislative reality will require massive grassroots mobilization and an education campaign, Sanders said. In addition to the 15 Democratic co-sponsors, Sanders will unveil the bill with the backing of at least two dozen left-leaning organizations that will help mobilize support in capitals and statehouses across the country.
“I don’t want anyone to think that this is a struggle that’s going to be won tomorrow. And I don’t want anyone to think that [Senate Majority leader] Mitch McConnell is coming onboard this legislation. He is not. Nor is [House Speaker] Paul Ryan,” Sanders said.
“But there is growing support among the American people and we will win this struggle.”
As some have pointed out, Medicaid may be a better model to be expanded than Medicare but that carries with it the stigma of being seen as a program aimed at poor people and thus is less likely to gain widespread acceptance. But as the eligibility for Medicare expands, the enrollment in Medicaid will drop. Once Medicare for all is adopted, there would be no reason to not merge the two programs.
These 24 organizations have already pledge support for the bill and to devote resources towards promoting it. The key test now is to see if the Democratic party leadership has the guts to break free of health industry lobby and push strongly for this and make it a defining progressive issue for coming elections.