San­ders launches bill to in­tro­duce uni­ver­sal health­care

The Guardian - - INTERNATIONAL - Lau­ren Gam­bino

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

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