Supporters of Medicare for All protest outside PhRMA headquarters

Supporters of Medicare for All protest outside of PhRMA headquarters in Washington, D.C. on April 29, 2019. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Sanders Applauds Denton, Texas for Passing 100th Local Resolution Backing Medicare for All

"The way we will pass Medicare for All," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, "is by continuing to build a strong grassroots movement that is prepared to take on the big money interests."

The city council of Denton, Texas passed a resolution Tuesday endorsing federal Medicare for All legislation, the 100th local government to do so as millions across the United face rising insurance premiums, skyrocketing drug costs, and imminent loss of coverage.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who just last week introduced the latest version of his Medicare for All legislation, applauded Denton lawmakers, the progressive advocacy group Public Citizen, and others involved in building support for the nonbinding resolution, which endorses the single-payer bill that Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) unveiled in March 2021.

"A system that treats healthcare like a right, not a commodity, would improve health outcomes for our community."

"At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has claimed over one million American lives and one-third of these deaths have been linked to a lack of health insurance, the need to guarantee healthcare to all as a right through a Medicare for All, single-payer system has never been more apparent," Sanders said Wednesday.

"The way we will pass Medicare for All," added Sanders, "is by continuing to build a strong grassroots movement that is prepared to take on the big money interests and end the greed of the private health insurance companies and pharmaceutical industry."

Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also celebrated the resolution's passage as an illustration of "the growing momentum behind Medicare for All," even as the near-term prospects of passage in the House and Senate remain slim.

"In a grueling pandemic that's claimed a million lives in our country, and left millions more without health insurance, people in cities big and small understand that healthcare shouldn't be tied to a job. It should be affordable, accessible, and universal," said Jayapal. "I'm thrilled to see Denton's support for Medicare for All, and will keep fighting to ensure universal healthcare becomes the law of the land."

Tuesday's vote made Denton the first municipality in Texas to pass a resolution endorsing Medicare for All, joining dozens of other cities across the country, from St Louis, Missouri to Tucson, Arizona to Washington, D.C.

Alison Maguire, a Denton city councilmember, said Wednesday that "a system that treats healthcare like a right, not a commodity, would improve health outcomes for our community, ease financial burdens on working- and middle-class residents, and cut as much as $23,462,000 from the city of Denton's annual budget for employee benefits, saving local taxpayers money."

"In light of all that," Maguire continued, "I wholeheartedly agree that it's appropriate for the Denton City Council to voice our support for Medicare for All at the Federal level."

Denton's vote came as healthcare advocates across the country are ramping up pressure on Congress to both expand Medicare and protect the existing program from a privatization scheme launched during the Trump administration and continued--with slight tweaks and a different name--under President Joe Biden.

Under the Biden administration's ACO REACH program, which is set to formally begin in January 2023, the federal government will pay private middlemen--such as firms owned by private equity investors--a fee to cover a specified portion of traditional Medicare patients' care. The middlemen will then be free to pocket the rest as profit and overhead, potentially incentivizing them to skimp on patient spending.

Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a group that has been organizing opposition to ACO REACH and its Trump-era predecessor for months, has warned that traditional Medicare beneficiaries will be automatically enrolled into ACO REACH entities without their consent.

"Once enrolled," the group said in February, patients "cannot opt out... unless they change primary care providers."

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The Medicare privatization effort has sparked outrage from dozens of lawmakers in the House and Senate and at the local level. Last month, the 4,000-member Arizona Medical Association and the Seattle City Council passed resolutions opposing ACO REACH and the Trump-era Direct Contracting program.

"Public health advocates across the country see little difference between ACO REACH and the Direct Contracting pilot, since both pilot programs allow third-party private entities to wedge themselves between patients and their healthcare providers and to draw down the Medicare Trust Fund by making huge profits in several ways, including weakening services for Medicare beneficiaries," reads the Seattle resolution, which passed unanimously.

"The city council opposes the privatization of the Medicare system, favors terminating the Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health (ACO REACH) pilot program, and favors closing the door on third party entities in the Medicare system," the resolution continues.

On May 23, PNHP is hosting a webinar aimed at spotlighting the threat ACO REACH poses to traditional Medicare and pushing the Biden administration to end the program entirely.

"The only way to stop REACH," PNHP argued in a Twitter post announcing the event, "is with a committed and sustained grassroots movement."

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