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.

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

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.

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