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Friday, August 4, 2017

Bernie Sanders to Push Universal Health Plan in Wake of Republican Repeal Failure

Sanders said: 'This will be an enormously difficult and 
prolonged struggle, and one which will require the efforts of tens of 
millions of Americans in every state in this country. (photo: Jay Laprete/AFP/Getty Images)
Sanders said: 'This will be an enormously difficult and prolonged struggle, and one which will require the efforts of tens of millions of Americans in every state in this country. (photo: Jay Laprete/AFP/Getty Images)

By Lauren Gambino, Guardian UK
 
ernie Sanders has spent the first months of the new Congress defending Barack Obama’s health reforms as Republicans vowed to repeal them. But after the GOP’s seven-year drive to eliminate the Affordable Care Act collapsed on the Senate floor last week, Sanders is ready to introduce his own solution – government-run universal healthcare for all Americans.

The Vermont senator will spend the next several weeks leading a campaign to build support for his plan before unveiling the bill next month. On Wednesday, he launched a six-figure digital advertising campaign on Facebook and Google that encourages supporters to become “citizen co-sponsors” of his plan, which he calls “Medicare for All”, according to Sanders spokesman Josh Miller-Lewis, a reference to the public healthcare program for older Americans.

“Bottom line is: if other countries around the world are providing quality care to all their people, we can do the same,” Sanders told NPR in an interview on Tuesday.

“This is not complicated,” the Vermont senator, who lost to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary last year, said. “The American people are familiar with Medicare. By and large it’s quite a popular program. But it starts now when you are 65 years of age. God didn’t create 65 years of age for being the eligibility rate. It should be available for every single person in this country.”

Sanders has been a long-time advocate of the “single-payer” system – government-run universal healthcare – and the plan was at the heart of the leftwing, populist agenda that fueled his unexpected rise during the 2016 Democratic primaries. And progressives, emboldened by his success, are eager to seize the moment to push forward their dream of transforming US healthcare.

On Monday night, Sanders sent a message to his supporters asking for ideas on how to shape his Medicare-for-all plan. Within 24 hours, the email had generated 19,000 responses and raised $65,000, Miller-Lewis said.

There are signs that support for a government-run healthcare system is growing. A survey published in June by the Pew Research Center found that a growing share of Americans support a universal healthcare system. Among all Americans, 33% support a “single payer” approach to healthcare, up 5 points since a January survey and 12 points since March 2014.

And support among Democrats is markedly higher, and rising. In January, 43% of Democrats said they supported a “single-payer” healthcare system, according to the study. By June, that number rose to 52%.

Sanders and his team are realistic about the prospects of passing such a plan under a Republican-controlled Congress with Donald Trump in the White House. But they are hoping to galvanize support in anticipation of Democratic successes in future elections.

In a June interview with the Guardian, Sanders said he expected “more senators than we’ve ever had before” to sign on to his bill. In 2015, when he introduced similar legislation, he had no co-sponsors.

Sanders declined then to divulge the number of senators who had already agreed to endorse the bill. But several senators have publicly declared their support for a single-payer system, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who called it the “next step” for health, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who has said: “We should have Medicare for all in this country.”

The forthcoming legislation will be similar to the proposal Sanders offered during his insurgent campaign, which would have eliminated the country’s health insurance programs and replaced them with coverage for everyone administered by the federal government. The plan, which was financed by increased taxes on wealthy Americans, was criticized by some for being too costly and light on policy details.

Sanders’ mobilization effort will confront the criticisms as part of an educational campaign to introduce the concept of universal care to a public that has long been wary of European-style healthcare systems.

Miller-Lewis said the senator will spend time speaking to voters beyond his base to explain the merits of a universal healthcare system, and to dispel negative assumptions about the approach, such as the concern that it would cause longer wait times for care.

Over the past several months, as Republicans scrambled to find support for a plan to repeal Obamacare, some conservatives warned that the consequence of failing to overhaul the system would be universal healthcare.

A single-payer plan has already been introduced in the House, by congressman John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, who has introduced a similar measure in every Congress since 2003.

When Conyers introduced his latest bill in January, it had 51 co-sponsors. Since then, the number of Democrats signed on to the bill has swelled to 116, a solid majority of the caucus. The proposal had just 62 co-sponsors in total when Conyers introduced it in 2015.

During the hours-long Obamacare repeal debate last week, Republican senator Steve Daines of Montana introduced a single-payer plan that Democrats dismissed as a ploy to embarrass vulnerable moderates who represent conservative states.

“President Trump, the Republicans want to make America great again. The Democrats want to make America like England again,” Daines said, mocking his own amendment, last week.

Sanders protested against the measure and urged Democrats to vote “present” rather than take a position on the bill. The bill failed 0-57 but exposed the inevitable tensions between the progressive and centrist wings of the party.

Four Democrats from states Trump won – Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Jon Tester of Montana, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana – and one independent, Angus King, joined Republicans in voting against the bill.

Sanders expects an uphill battle but says now is the political moment to wage this fight.

“Let me be clear,” Sanders wrote in the email to supporters, “this will be an enormously difficult and prolonged struggle, and one which will require the efforts of tens of millions of Americans in every state in this country.

“It will, in fact, require a political revolution in which the American people participate in the political process in a way that we have not seen in the recent history of our democracy.”

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