01/03/2024

  • High healthcare costs can lead to financial strain for many individuals and families.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is pushing to change that with Medicare for All.

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Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a news conference outside the United States Capitol May 4 in Washington, DC

Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images News | Getty Images

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For many Americans, a medical emergency can lead to a financial crisis due to the high cost of healthcare in the United States

This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., renews his push for a new Medicare for All approach that he touted as a presidential candidate.

“The current health care system in the United States is totally broken,” Sanders said Tuesday at an event on Capitol Hill.

“It’s totally dysfunctional and it’s extremely cruel,” she said.

With the support of Democratic Representatives Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Debbie Dingell of Michigan, lawmakers plan to reintroduce a bill, titled the Medicare for All Act of 2023, in both the House and Senate on Wednesday.

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In the House, the bill will have 112 co-sponsors, more than it ever had when the bill was introduced, Jayapal noted, despite having fewer Democratic seats than in the previous Congress.

Medicare for All would create a single-payer program, which would allow a single source to collect all health care bills and pay all health care costs.

“It is long overdue for us to end the international embarrassment of the United States as the only major country in the world that does not guarantee health care to all of its people,” Sanders said. “Now is the time for a single-payer Medicare for All program.”

Research shows that many Americans are suffering under the weight of high health care costs.

Nearly 1 in 10 adults, or about 23 million people, have medical debt, according to KFF research last year. About 11 million people owe more than $2,000 and 3 million people owe more than $10,000, the independent provider of health policy research found.

Some families have filed for bankruptcy, Sanders noted, after serious conditions like cancer or heart disease leave them with unmanageable hospital bills.

Inequalities tend to hit low-income communities, minorities and immigrants, said Nancy Hagans, who served as a critical care nurse for more than 35 years in Brooklyn, New York, during Tuesday’s Capitol Hill event .

Throughout her career, Hagans said she’s seen patients not get the care they need because they didn’t have health insurance, or if they did, because they couldn’t afford high deductibles or co-pays. Others were forced to choose between taking their medications or putting food on the table for their children, she said.

“Our current system discriminates against your ability to pay, what kind of job you have or if you have a job,” said Hagans, who currently serves on the Board of Presidents of National Nurses United and as president of the New York State Nurses Association.

Sanders called for comprehensive healthcare without networks, premiums, deductibles, co-pays or surprise bills.

He also called for an extension of Medicare coverage to include areas such as dental, hearing, vision, mental health and substance abuse treatment, inpatient and outpatient services, and long-term care at home and in community.

Sanders also wants to limit what patients pay for prescription drugs.

A protester at the 2022 March for Medicare for All in Washington, DC

Probal Rashid | Light Rocket | Getty Images

After dealing with the hassles of private insurance, many people tend to ask, “Why don’t we have Medicare for everyone?” noted John Holahan, an institute fellow at the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center.

But the answer isn’t that simple, he said.

“They really want a system that is ‘everyone is in it and everything is free and providers get paid Medicare rates,'” Holahan said. “Current Medicare looks very different than what they’re talking about.”

Even running the economy can be difficult, according to Holahan.

Medicare rates are lower than those paid by private insurers. If such rates were used across the board, this would lead to savings for patients and employers. But it would also mean substantial income losses for doctors and providers and lower revenues for hospitals.

And the tax increases that might be required to roll out such a health care system could make it a political failure, Holahan said.

Another alternative could be to create a public option that allows workers to choose between government and private plans, he said. Implementing rate controls for hospitals or prescription drugs would also be “major advances,” according to Holahan.

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