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Sanders to Push for Single-Payer Vote in Senate

Daniel Barlow

Senator-elect Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is interviewed by a Reuters reporter at Sanders' office in Burlington, Vermont November 28, 2006. (REUTERS/Brian Snyde)

MONTPELIER - U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders will likely make history this
year when - for the first time ever - he brings a bill creating a
national single-payer health care system to the floor of the Senate for
a vote.

As a compromise on a public-option plan that would allow
states to opt out gains steam in the U.S. Senate, Sanders, a Vermont
independent, continues to focus his attention on a single-payer bill,
although he acknowledges that there are not enough votes to pass it.

bill will lose," Sanders said Wednesday morning during a telephone
interview. "The question, however, will be how much support it will

Introduced in the early spring, Sanders' American Health
Security Act of 2009 would eliminate the role of private insurance
companies in health care and create a public fund that would insure all
residents of the United States.

Sanders said his bill would
insure the 46 million Americans without coverage and could save upwards
of $400 million annually by eliminating insurance overhead and medical

The system would be paid for through existing
sources of government health care spending along with some tax
increases, which advocates say would be less than what people pay now
in co-pays or out-of-pocket expenses.

Sanders' bill has received
little attention in Washington political circles as this summer's
health-care debate focused more on discredited fears of government
death panels and the cost of a public health insurance option, which
President Obama favors.

There has never been a vote on a
single-payer health care system in either the U.S. Senate or the House,
according to Mark Almberg, communications director for the organization
Physicians for a National Health Program, a national advocacy
organization that supports a single-payer system.

"We do believe
that this could be the first time a single-payer bill gets a vote in
Congress," said Almberg, whose organization supports Sanders' bill.

agreed that single-payer does not have the votes to pass the U.S.
Congress. He said there are about 80 co-sponsors of a similar House
bill, but would not hazard a guess as to how many votes for such a plan
there are in the Senate.

Knowing that his single-payer bill is
likely to fail, Sanders said he also plans to try including a provision
in the final health-care bill that would allow states such as Vermont
to experiment with a single-payer system on a state level.

that legislation is approved, it would be welcomed by some lawmakers in
Vermont. Sen. Doug Racine, D-Chittenden, a candidate for governor in
2010, said he plans to kick off hearings at the Statehouse in January
on exactly what a single-payer system in the Green Mountain State would
look like.

Racine said Vermont would need certain waivers from
the federal government to conduct a single-payer health care system
here - exactly the type of clearance that Sanders' proposed provision
would allow.

"There are lots of different questions that need to
be answered," Racine said. "I think we need to move past the question
of whether or not a single-payer system would be good for Vermont and
begin looking at how it would work."

Sanders was hesitant to
make predictions of where health care reform will end up in the Senate
- his staff has yet to see a final version of the bill and a date for a
vote has not been scheduled.

But his expectation is that the
final bill will have the required 60 votes to overcome a Republican
filibuster to bring it to a final vote, which only requires more than
50 votes to pass.

"I think that, once we get closer to a vote,
the American people will look closely at what is in the Senate bill and
what is in the House bill," Sanders said. "I hope that we will see a
groundswell of support for health care reform that will force some
members to take a stand and allow for a vote."

Still, Sanders is
not too enthusiastic about the public-option opt-out plan pushed by
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, this week.

the American people should be given the option of a public health
insurance plan that competes on the market with the private insurance
companies," he said.

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