Slamming the current U.S. healthcare system as a morass of waste, dysfunction, and profiteering, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday introduced Medicare for All legislation that would eliminate out-of-pocket insurance costs and provide comprehensive coverage to everyone in the country.
“It is not acceptable to me, nor to the American people, that over 70 million people today are either uninsured or underinsured,” Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said during a Medicare for All hearing that he convened Thursday morning.
“As we speak,” the Vermont senator continued, “there are millions of people who would like to go to a doctor but cannot afford to do so. This is an outrage.”
The Medicare for All Act of 2022, which Sanders unveiled with 14 Senate co-sponsors, would transition the U.S. to a single-payer healthcare system over a period of four years, during which the Medicare eligibility age would be incrementally lowered from 65, benefits would be strengthened and expanded, and the program would be made available to children.
Under the system that Sanders’ bill would usher in, patients would no longer have to fork over copays, deductibles, and premiums to hugely profitable insurance companies.
“If Medicare for All becomes law, your taxes will go up,” Sanders noted, anticipating insurance industry talking points against his bill. “But what they won’t tell you is that there would be no out-of-pocket costs.”
“And what they certainly won’t tell you,” Sanders added, “is that Medicare for All will save the average family thousands of dollars a year. In fact, a study by RAND found that moving to a Medicare for All system would save a family with an income of less than $185,000 about $3,000 a year, on average.”
In America today, we spend an unbelievable $12,530 per person for health care. Despite this huge expenditure, 30 million Americans have no insurance at all while 112 million more struggle to pay for the care they need. The time is now for Medicare for All. https://t.co/Va9On9ArGY
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 12, 2022
The coronavirus pandemic, now in its third year, has shone a spotlight on what Sanders, progressive advocates, doctors, and nurses have long characterized as systemic flaws at the core of the U.S. healthcare system, under which coverage and access to lifesaving medications are closely linked to employment and the ability to pay.
When mass layoffs hit during the initial spread of Covid-19 in the U.S. in 2020, millions lost their jobs and their health insurance, leaving them one illness or accident away from financial ruin. An analysis released last March by Families USA estimated that roughly one in every three coronavirus deaths in the U.S. up to that point were linked to gaps in insurance coverage.
“Uninsurance is lethal,” Dr. Adam Gaffney, a critical care physician at the Cambridge Health Alliance, said in his testimony before the Senate Budget Committee on Thursday. “It causes well more than 30,000 deaths each and every year.”
Meanwhile, top U.S. health insurance and pharmaceutical companies raked in massive profits in 2021.
“We can either continue down the path of corporate greed and human suffering, or we can do what every other rich nation has done and guarantee universal coverage,” Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said in a statement Thursday. “Medicare for All is the realistic, humane, and just choice.”
Bonnie Castillo, the executive director of National Nurses United, voiced a similar sentiment Thursday, telling the Senate budget panel, “The only way to solve the healthcare crisis is to enact a single-payer, Medicare for All system.”
Sanders emphasized Thursday that in addition to saving lives and cutting costs for individuals and families, his Medicare for All legislation would also be “significantly less expensive” overall than the largely privatized status quo “because it would eliminate an enormous amount of the bureaucracy, profiteering, administrative costs, and misplaced priorities inherent in our current for-profit system.”
“In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Medicare for All would save Americans $650 billion a year,” Sanders said during his opening remarks at Thursday’s hearing.
“Guaranteeing healthcare as a right is important to the American people not just from a moral and financial perspective,” the senator added. “It also happens to be what the majority of the American people want. In 2020, 69% of the American people supported providing Medicare to every American.”
Despite surveys showing that Medicare for All is popular with the public, the bill faces huge obstacles to passage in the Senate and House.
In the lower chamber, more than half of the House Democratic caucus supports Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Debbie Dingell’s (D-Mich.) Medicare for All Act, but the party’s leadership has refused to allow a vote on the measure.
The path to passage is even more treacherous in the Senate, where the majority of the Democratic caucus has not signed onto Sanders’ legislation. Late last year, conservative Democrats in the upper chamber—including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—tanked the Sanders-led effort to expand Medicare’s benefits to include hearing, dental, and vision.
During Thursday’s hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he would support holding a vote on the Medicare for All Act of 2022 this year, joking that many Senate Democrats would “jump out the window” if they had to go on the record supporting or opposing Sanders’ bill.
While the near-term prospects of enacting Medicare for All legislation are slim, Weissman argued Thursday that it’s truly unrealistic “for the United States to continue with for-profit insurance.”
“It is unrealistic to believe this system can be tinkered with and deliver healthcare to all. The problems that characterize our current system are the natural outgrowth of the system’s design,” said Weissman. “Medicare for All is the realistic alternative to our current, failed system.”
“Medicare for All is not just realistic policy; it’s realistic politics,” he continued. “It’s not just that strong majorities consistently support Medicare for All in polling. We’re seeing a growing grassroots movement with new intensity: Nearly 100 resolutions from cities and towns all across the country have called for Medicare for All.”
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