As the number of Americans without health insurance continues to rise rapidly due to ongoing mass layoffs across the nation, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal on Friday introduced emergency legislation that would empower Medicare to cover all healthcare costs for the uninsured and all out-of-pocket expenses for those with insurance for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
"Our broken healthcare system is failing to protect millions of Americans from the coronavirus pandemic," Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement. "Now more than ever, we need to take bold action to prevent more Americans from getting sick or dying."
"With an estimated 35 million Americans in danger of losing their employer-provided health insurance over the coming weeks and months, this legislation is needed now more than ever."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
If passed, the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act (pdf) would take effect immediately and remain in place until the Secretary of Health and Human Services certifies to Congress that a Food and Drug Administration-approved coronavirus vaccine is widely available to the U.S. public.
The legislation to "provide health for all during the pandemic," according to a summary (pdf) released by Sanders' office, would "fully cover the cost of medically necessary healthcare, including prescription drugs," for the tens of millions of Americans currently without health insurance.
An analysis by Health Management Associates earlier this month warned that the total number of uninsured Americans could rise to 40 million within the next several months if U.S. job losses continue at the current rate.
For Americans with either public or private insurance, "Medicare will cover the copays, deductibles, and other cost-sharing for all medically necessary healthcare, including for prescription drugs," the summary of the bill states.
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"When individuals go to the hospital or doctor, they will provide their insurance information as usual," the summary explains. "The provider will use this information to bill Medicare—either for the out-of-pocket costs if the individual has another type of insurance, or for all of the care if the individual is uninsured. The patient will not be charged anything."
"An interesting play. Give people a taste of Medicare for All during this emergency while continuing to advocate for the real thing."
—Anand Giridharadas, TIME
Additionally, the legislation would ban surprise billing and prevent private insurance companies from limiting coverage or hiking co-pays and deductibles until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
"During this unprecedented crisis, no one in America should delay seeking medical care because of the cost," Sanders said in a statement. "If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are only as safe as the least-insured among us."
"We have got to work together to make sure that anyone in America who is sick—regardless of their income or immigration status—can seek the medical treatment they need during this national emergency," Sanders added. "With an estimated 35 million Americans in danger of losing their employer-provided health insurance over the coming weeks and months, this legislation is needed now more than ever."
Sanders and Jayapal are two of the leading advocates of Medicare for All in Congress, and the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act represents a short-term solution as they work to build support for a national single-payer plan.
"An interesting play," TIME editor-at-large Anand Giridharadas tweeted in response to the new bill. "Give people a taste of Medicare for All during this emergency while continuing to advocate for the real thing."