Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday re-introduced his Medicare for All legislation aimed at providing health insurance to all Americans as a right.
The plan would essentially eliminate the private, for-profit health insurance industry as it exists today and replace it with a single-payer system in which the federal government would provide insurance to all citizens by expanding the current Medicare program to include everyone.
Sanders, a frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic presidential race, has championed universal healthcare for decades and was largely responsible for bringing the issue into the mainstream during his 2016 campaign for president.
Fourteen other Senate Democrats have co-sponsored the legislation, including presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker.
‘Health Care is a Human Right’
“Health care is a human right, not a privilege,” Sanders said at a press conference unveiling the proposal. “Together, we are going to end the international embarrassment of the United States of America … being the only major nation on Earth not to guarantee health care as a right.”
The new legislation, dubbed The Medicare For All Act of 2019, is similar to legislation introduced by Sanders in the past, but is updated to offer additional coverage including dental and eye care. The updates bring Sanders’ bill inline with the House version of the legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
Sen. Bernie Sanders presents his "Medicare-for-all" plan while flanked by supporting lawmakers: "The American people are increasingly clear: they want a health care system that guarantees health care to all Americans as a right." https://t.co/kv20L32ii4 pic.twitter.com/uWEF4nwVfJ
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) April 10, 2019
The Medicare For All Act also aims to reduce the cost of prescription drugs in several ways, including by allowing the government to negotiate drug prices through the Medicare system.
Americans currently pay nearly twice as much for prescription drugs than the world average.
How Much Will It Cost?
Sanders plan is estimated to cost about $32 trillion over ten years, though 2018 analyses from the conservative Mercatus Institute and the University of Massachusetts both showed that would represent about $2 trillion in net savings compared to projected health care spending under the current system.
The legislation proposed by Sanders on Wednesday does not include detailed plans for how to fund the program. The basic premise, however, is that individuals and businesses would pay taxes instead of premiums and co-pays to private companies.
In 2018, the top five health insurance companies in the U.S. amassed about $20 billion in profit.
Sanders blasted the industry as “dysfunctional,” and argued the country is “wasting enormous sums of money” by allowing companies to profit off of providing health care.
The Road Ahead
At his press conference, Sanders was joined at the podium by Gillibrand and Sen. Jeff Merkley and was surrounded by supporters from groups like National Nurses United.
Though Sanders’ proposal is not dissimilar from the models that exist throughout much of the industrialized world, it represents a major overhaul to the U.S. system and is viewed as radical by many Republicans and more centrist Democrats.
Polling has indicated that as much as 70 percent of Americans support Sanders’ proposal, though results fluctuate depending on how the issue is framed.
As his campaign for single payer gains momentum, Sanders said he anticipates fierce opposition from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, which both wield considerable political clout in Washington.
More on the Subject
An analysis of American attitudes on healthcare released by Gallup in December concluded that a majority of Americans “reject a government-run healthcare system.”
The report stands in contrast with other recent public opinion polls that have shown consistently high levels of support among Americans for the creation of a national single-payer, “Medicare for all” healthcare system.
The variation in support between polls seems to depend on how the issue is framed, suggesting many Americans may be confused about exactly what a Medicare for all system entails.