A cheering crowd gave a rousing endorsement to Sen. Bernie Sanders' plan to introduce Medicare-for-All, or single-payer, legislation to Congress in the coming weeks, announced this weekend at a Vermont town hall meeting.
"We have got to end the international disgrace of being the only major country on earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people as a right not a privilege," Sanders (I-Vt.) told the 1,000-strong audience in Hardwick, Vermont, where he appeared alongside the other members of the state's congressional delegation. "Within a couple of weeks I am going to be introducing legislation calling for a Medicare-for-All, single-payer program."
Vermont Public Radio said the announcement "drew thunderous applause" from the crowd at Hazen Union High School.
As Common Dreams reported, last week's defeat of TrumpCare (also known as the American Healthcare Act or AHCA) left an opening for such a push. Multiple analyses have shown that replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) with a universal, single-payer health system is in fact the only way to increase coverage and fulfill President Donald Trump's campaign promises on healthcare. And as Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) co-founders David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler asserted in an editorial on Wednesday, "Democratic politicians are feeling pressed and emboldened to embrace progressive policies" as the resistance shows its strength.
That call will only grow louder. The Huffington Post reported Saturday that a broad array of progressive groups—including the Working Families Party, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Credo, Social Security Works, and the National Nurses United (NNU)—is coalescing behind the single-payer goal in the wake of last week's political wrangling.
"The problem is the insurance companies, Big Pharma—they're gonna come back and use the chaos to their advantage," Social Security Works executive director Alex Lawson said to HuffPo. "If Democrats go with a half-a-loaf policy, Republicans are going to blame them for the failures of Big Pharma. They have to immediately pivot to expanding Medicare."
Meanwhile, Sanders' Democratic colleague in the House, Rep. Peter Welch, said that once Sanders' measure is introduced in the Senate, he'd put forth a companion bill in his chamber.
"It's a goal," Welch told Vermont Public Radio after the Hardwick town hall meeting. "In this Congress, we won't pass it. But I think we have to keep the goal out there, because we need in this country, like any industrialized country, a healthcare system that's affordable, accessible, and universal."
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Sanders told the audience that the defeat of the Republican healthcare bill demonstrates widespread dissatisfaction among Americans with GOP healthcare policies. And he says he thinks his "Medicare-for-All" bill will have strong appeal even among the red-state voters that put President Donald Trump in the White House.
Indeed, at a televised town hall forum in West Virginia earlier this month, that appeal was on display as a roomful of Trump voters cheered loudly for Sanders' assertion that universal healthcare is a right.
Sanders reiterated his plan on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, telling anchor Dana Bash: "Ideally, where we should be going is to join the rest of the industrialized the world and guarantee healthcare to all people as a right. And that's why I'm going to introduce a Medicare-for-All, single-payer program."
Sanders also spoke of shorter-term goals in his interview on CNN: "Let us do, among other things, a public option. Let us give people in every state in this country a public option from which they can choose. Let's talk about lowering the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 55. Let's deal with the greed of the pharmaceutical industry."
The senator from Vermont also tweeted on Saturday, "Right now we need to improve the Affordable Care Act and that means a public option."
But corporate crime watchdog and single-payer advocate Russell Mokhiber warned against embracing the public option as a stand-in or even a stepping stone for Medicare for All.
In a piece published Sunday, Mokhiber quoted pediatrician and PNHP member Margaret Flowers, who co-directs the group Health Over Profit for Everyone. She said:
Introducing a public option will divide and confuse supporters of Medicare-for-All. Senators who should co-sponsor Medicare-for-All will be divided. Sanders seems to be urging a public option to please the Democratic Party, but Sanders cannot serve two masters—Wall Street's Chuck Schumer and the people. Sanders must decide whom he is working for.
While it might seem politically pragmatic to support a public option, it is not realistically pragmatic because a public option will not work. Senator Sanders knows that and he knows that the smallest step toward solving the healthcare crisis is National Improved Medicare for All. This would fundamentally change our health system that currently treats health as a commodity so that people only have access to what they can afford to a system that treats health as a public necessity so that people have access to what they need. Medicare-for-All achieves the savings needed to provide comprehensive coverage to everyone.
"We look to Senator Sanders to act on what he promised during his presidential campaign, a national improved Medicare-for-All now, not tomorrow," Flowers said. "Tomorrow never comes. It is not up to him to decide if single-payer can pass in Congress. That task is for the people to decide."