Feds’ health role could be big­ger

San­ders’ plan to en­sure health care for all may be go­ing nowhere, but it gar­nered sup­port from a packed crowd

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Alan Fram The As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON — In an an­i­mated, cam­paign-style rally, Sen. Bernie San­ders un­wrapped his plan to re­make the na­tion’s con­vo­luted health care sys­tem into fed­er­ally run health in­sur­ance Wed­nes­day — a costly pro­posal em­braced by lib­eral ac­tivists hop­ing to steer the Demo­cratic Party in up­com­ing elec­tions.

The Ver­mont in­de­pen­dent’s plan would hand govern­ment a dom­i­nant role in in­sur­ing Amer­i­cans, a cru­cial step, he said, in guar­an­tee­ing health care for all. Cen­sus Bu­reau data this week showed the pro­por­tion of peo­ple lack­ing poli­cies fall­ing to 8.8 per­cent last year un­der “Oba­macare,” the low­est level ever recorded, but he called it an “in­ter­na­tional dis­grace” that not all Amer­i­cans have cov­er­age.

Though San­ders’ plan is go­ing nowhere in the cur­rent GOP-con­trolled Congress, he drew a big crowd to a packed and elec­tri­fied Se­nate hear­ing room.

Hours ear­lier, Repub­li­can se­na­tors un­veiled their own

last-ditch, long-shot plan to scut­tle Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s 2010 statute and prac­ti­cally begged the White House to help.

“Pick up the phone” and ask gov­er­nors to sup­port the re­peal ef­fort, said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., aim­ing his re­marks at Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. “Tell them this mat­ters to you, that you weren’t kid­ding about re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing Oba­macare, that you ac­tu­ally meant it.”

Shortly after­ward, Trump is­sued a state­ment say­ing “I sin­cerely hope” the ef­fort by Gra­ham and three other GOP se­na­tors will suc­ceed.

The wan­ing de­sire of GOP law­mak­ers to re­vive their failed ef­fort to scrap Obama’s law con­trasted with grow­ing, though wary, Demo­cratic sup­port for San­ders’ bill. It has at­tracted 16 co-spon­sors, one-third of all Se­nate Democrats, though most are from safely Demo­cratic states. “To­day we be­gin the long and dif­fi­cult strug­gle to end the in­ter­na­tional dis­grace of the United States, our great na­tion, be­ing the only ma­jor coun­try on Earth not to guar­an­tee health care to all,” San­ders de­clared.

Though his bill has no chance in the cur­rent Congress, the is­sue is en­thu­si­as­ti­cally backed by large seg­ments of a Demo­cratic Party hop­ing to cap­ture House con­trol in the 2018 elec­tions. San­ders cau­cuses with Democrats and un­ex­pect­edly gave Hil­lary Clin­ton a tough run for the party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion last year.

The room where San­ders spoke held more than 200 peo­ple, in­clud­ing mem­bers of unions and pro­gres­sive groups. Many waved posters and chanted “Medi­care for all,” the name he has given his 96-page bill, which would grad­u­ally ex­pand the health in­sur­ance pro­gram for the el­derly to

cover all Amer­i­cans.

Nine other se­na­tors at­tended and most also spoke, in­clud­ing at least four po­ten­tial 2020 pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rants who al­most seemed to be au­di­tion­ing. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called the health care bat­tle “a fight for our na­tion to live up to our ideals.”

Cries for uni­ver­sal cov­er­age and gov­ern­ment­pro­vided, sin­gle-payer health care have sim­mered among Democrats for decades.

The no­tion was sub­merged as Obama en­acted his over­haul, which boosted fed­eral spend­ing and set cov­er­age re­quire­ments but left much of the ex­ist­ing pri­vate sys­tem in place. About 156 mil­lion peo­ple get poli­cies at work, about half of all those in­sured, with most of the rest get­ting cov­er­age through Medi­care or Med­i­caid or by buy­ing in­di­vid­ual plans.

But sup­port among Democrats for San­ders’ bill and sim­i­lar mea­sures by other Democrats, plus polling show­ing grow­ing pub­lic back­ing, sug­gests the push for a sin­gle-payer sys­tem will be a ma­jor theme inside the party. “We will de­fend it at ev­ery turn,” Sen. Elizabeth War­ren, D-Mass., an­other pos­si­ble pres­i­den­tial hope­ful, told the crowd about Obama’s law. “But we will go fur­ther.” Po­ten­tial can­di­dates Kirsten Gil­li­brand of New York and Ka­mala Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia also at­tended the event.

San­ders pro­vided no de­tails about the price tag of his mea­sure or how it would be fi­nanced. Aides have said it would likely rely largely on in­come-ad­justed pre­mi­ums peo­ple would pay the govern­ment, rang­ing from zero for the poor­est Amer­i­cans to high levies on the rich and cor­po­ra­tions.

Peo­ple would no longer owe monthly pre­mi­ums and other out-of-pocket costs like co­pay­ments, and com­pa­nies would not have to of­fer cov­er­age to work­ers. San­ders says most peo­ple and em­ploy­ers would save money.

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