Sanders launches bill to introduce universal healthcare
The US senator Bernie Sanders has launched an attempt to establish a national healthcare system that covers all 323 million Americans.
Sanders has no illusions about the bill’s fate in a Republican-controlled Congress, where it has little chance of passing. But he told the Guardian yesterday the time had arrived to have a debate he believes is fundamental: is healthcare a right or a privilege in America?
Standing in opposition to Sanders are what he calls the “most powerful and greedy forces in American society”: the pharmaceutical industry, insurers, Wall Street and the Republican party.
“The opposition to this will be extraordinary,” Sanders said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office, before the launch of his universal healthcare bill, known as “Medicare for All”.
“They will spend an enormous amount of money fighting us. They will lie about what is in the programme. They will frighten the American people.”
Sanders’ bill has 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.
The Sanders plan would radically reform the American healthcare system, transitioning it over the course of four years to a federally administered insurance programme. The new system would be underwritten by an increase in taxes.
His “single-payer” bill would provide comprehensive coverage for everything from the cost of hospital services to prescription drugs, mental health, maternity and newborn care, and dental health.
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 BlueCross BlueShield [health insurers’] card – and having to argue with your insurance company – you’re going to have a Medicare For All card. That’s it.”
The bill is gaining steam in the Democratic party. Among the 15 senators cosponsoring the legislation are Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Al Franken – all of whom are rumoured to be considering a run for president in 2020.
But Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming and a surgeon, said on Tuesday that the Sanders bill was “becoming the litmus test for the liberal left” and decried it as too costly. He pointed to Sanders’ home state, Vermont, where legislators tried and failed to establish a single-payer system after experts estimated that running the programme would require doubling taxes for residents.
Sanders said he was open to other approaches that push the country towards universal healthcare but said he believed that Medicare for All, modelled on the Canadian system, was the most logical.
He acknowledged there was a hefty price tag. But he argued that the US spent more per capita on health than countries that guarantee healthcare as a right, such as Canada, France and Germany. And despite spending more, 28 million Americans remain uninsured.
Clockwise from top left: Bernie Sanders with the bill’s co-sponsors, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker