Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a press conference

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a press conference on May 4, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

At Medicare for All Town Hall, Sanders Says For-Profit System Is 'Failing' and Must End

"The American people understand that healthcare is a human right," said the Vermont senator.

"The current healthcare system in the United States is totally broken, it is totally dysfunctional, and it is extremely cruel."

That was how Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) kicked off his speech Tuesday night at a town hall in Washington, D.C., convened hours before the planned reintroduction of Medicare for All legislation in the House and Senate on Wednesday.

Sanders, who is leading the updated bill alongside Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), said that the U.S. can "no longer tolerate" a profit-driven healthcare system under which the country spends twice as much per person as other major countries with disastrous results.

The Vermont senator, a longtime single-payer proponent, rattled off the alarming statistics: More than 80 million people in the U.S. are uninsured or underinsured, a quarter of Americans struggle to afford prescription medicines, and tens of thousands die every year in the richest country on the planet due to lack of insurance.

"What an outrage," Sanders said Tuesday to an audience of nurses, doctors, other healthcare workers, and patients.

While the text of the latest Medicare for All bill has not yet been released, it will likely bear a close resemblance to previous versions that called for a dramatic transformation of the U.S. healthcare system over a period of several years, virtually eliminating private insurance and incrementally expanding and improving Medicare until it provides every person in the country with comprehensive care—for free at the point of service.

The bill stands no chance of passing in the current Congress given Republican control of the House and still-insufficient Democratic support, as well as massive industry opposition.

"What we're looking at is an industry that has spent billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions. Right now, as we speak—this moment, right here on Capitol Hill—the pharmaceutical industry has over 1,800 well-paid lobbyists," Sanders said. "They've got three lobbyists for every member of Congress. Former leaders of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party—they are swarming all over this place."

But given how deadly the status quo has become—with its intractable flaws amplified by the coronavirus pandemic—Sanders said the fight for a just healthcare system is more urgent than ever and must continue despite the significant political obstacles.

"Where we are today is not complicated," the senator said. "The American people understand this system is failing, the American people understand that healthcare is a human right."

"And our job," he added, "is to finally end a disastrous system and make it clear that every man, woman, and child in this country is entitled to healthcare because they are a human being."

Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, stressed during her remarks Tuesday night that support for Medicare for All has been growing across the country in recent years even as congressional backing for the legislation remains inadequate.

More than 100 localities across the U.S. have passed resolutions supporting Medicare for All, according to a Public Citizen tally.

Jayapal pointed specifically to Dunn County, Wisconsin voters' approval of a ballot measure endorsing a national health insurance program in 2022. The county leans heavily Republican, indicating the widespread appeal of a system like the one Medicare for All would usher in.

"The momentum is on our side in this movement," said Jayapal, who also cited growing support in the House Democratic caucus and recent congressional hearings on Medicare for All.

"It can sometimes feel like we're pushing boulders up mountains, but know this: We have made incredible progress," Jayapal added. "And we will continue to do that work across the country."

The town hall also featured remarks from healthcare professionals who have experienced firsthand the horrors of the privatized U.S. system, which has left millions of people one medical emergency away from financial ruin.

"Even during a public health crisis, healthcare corporations prioritized their own profits instead of trying to save lives," said Nancy Hagans, RN, president of the New York State Nurses Association.

According to peer-reviewed research published last year, more than 338,000 Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. could have been prevented if the country had a single-payer healthcare system. Meanwhile, insurance and pharmaceutical giants have seen their revenues continue to skyrocket.

"As a critical care physician, I have seen the results of this," said Dr. Adam Gaffney of the Cambridge Health Alliance, noting the large number of U.S. adults who are likely to experience lapses in insurance coverage over a two-year period. "I have seen patients with life-threatening illnesses due to chronic conditions that were treatable but were not treated because those patients lacked access to care."

"We need Medicare for All in this country for one reason," Gaffney argued. "It is the solution to the inequities and injustices of our healthcare system, and no other reform is."

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