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The Nation

A Seat at the Table for Single-Payer

This week, Senator Bernie Sanders has been firing on all cylinders as he continues his advocacy for real healthcare reform that controls costs while extending quality care to every American. Monday he held a town meeting in Burlington to discuss what we can learn from other countries that have developed cost effective universal health care systems. On Tuesday he met with President Obama along with other members of the Finance and Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committees responsible for drafting the Senate's healthcare legislation. Yesterday he arranged a meeting between single-payer advocates and Finance Chair Max Baucus--Baucus had previously not only denied them a seat at the table for his hearings but even had some arrested.

I had the opportunity to speak with Senator Sanders this evening as he took a brief break from ongoing discussions within the HELP Committee, and prior to his making the case for single-payer on The Ed Show (a case Schultz has featured on his five-night-a-week MSNBC program and in town halls across the country). This is what the Senator had to say:

Q: Tell me about the purpose of the meeting with Senator Baucus today?
Senator Sanders: The truth of the matter is--and I say this not ideologically but just from an objective analysis of the health care situation--the only way you're gonna provide comprehensive, universal, and cost-effective healthcare to every man, woman, and child in this country is through a single-payer system. That's just a simple reality. And the reason for that is that to pay for universal comprehensive healthcare you have to deal with the enormous amount of waste that is currently within the private health insurance industry. The estimate is about $400 billion a year in administrative costs, in billing, in profits, in CEO compensation, in advertising--all of those things which have nothing to do with the provision of healthcare...
In California, my understanding is that 1 out of every 3 dollars of premiums goes to administration. If we are gonna address the very rapid and dangerous increase in healthcare [costs], then the only way to do that is through a single-payer system which wrings out all of the waste that private health insurance creates.
So, you gotta put that issue out on the table and that's what we're trying to do.
The meeting with Senator Baucus is an effort to allow all of the people in this country--including 15,000 physicians, the largest nurses organizations--to at the very least begin to get a hearing [on] what is the most sensible proposal out there. I'm going to be talking to Senator Dodd--who for a while has taken over the leadership of the HELP Committee--about the possibility of a hearing within the HELP Committee. I don't know if that would happen but I'd like to see that.

 I just think it's very important for the American people to understand why our system is the most expensive, the most wasteful, the most bureaucratic in the entire industrialized world. The only way you can do that is through the analysis that single-payer provides.

Q: What can you tell me about your meeting with President Obama?

Senator Sanders: The President wants a very aggressive timetable, I'm not sure that that can be met. His hope is that legislation is passed in the Senate before the August break. And that will require the Finance Committee to pass something, the HELP Committee to pass something, and then the two committees to work out their differences, and then to bring it to the floor and pass that. President Obama said he supports a public plan option and he [reiterated that] today in a letter to Senator Kennedy and Senator Baucus.


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Q: What can progressives do to make sure there is truly a robust public plan option?

Senator Sanders: As a matter of fact, I've just come from--and will be going to in a few minutes--back to the HELP Committee where we are just discussing this issue. There are five different options--from strong to weak. This is not a mark-up, this is just an informal discussion among the members. But that is just what we are discussing right now. The American people have got to weigh in on this debate--get involved in this struggle --to say at the very least we want a strong public plan option. We can [also] make good progress on primary healthcare, expanding community health centers , training more healthcare professionals and implementing stronger quality control.

Q: Your bill that would allow five states to administer a single-payer system (S.898) --is that an incubator to move towards a national single-payer system?

Senator Sanders: That's right. And we're gonna push for that. We are absolutely gonna push for that. That came up at the meeting with Senator Baucus and it's something that I want in the bill.

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel is an American editor and publisher. She is the editor, publisher, and part-owner of the magazine The Nation. She has been the magazine's editor since 1995.


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