WASHINGTON — In an animated, campaign-style rally, Sen. Bernie Sanders unwrapped his plan to remake the nation’s convoluted health care system into federally run health insurance Wednesday – a costly proposal embraced by liberal activists hoping to steer the Democratic Party in upcoming elections.
The Vermont independent’s plan would hand government a dominant role in insuring Americans, a crucial step, he said, in guaranteeing health care for all. Census Bureau data this week showed the proportion of people lacking policies falling to 8.8 percent last year under “Obamacare,” the lowest level ever recorded, but he called it an “international disgrace” that not all Americans have coverage.
Though Sanders’ plan is going nowhere in the current GOP-controlled Congress, he drew a big crowd to a packed and electrified Senate hearing room.
Hours earlier, Republican senators unveiled their own last-ditch, long-shot plan to scuttle former President Barack Obama’s 2010 statute and practically begged the White House to help.
“Pick up the phone” and ask governors to support the repeal effort, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.. “Tell them this matters to you, that you weren’t kidding about repealing and replacing Obamacare, that you actually meant it.”
The waning desire of GOP lawmakers to revive their failed effort to scrap Obama’s law contrasted with growing, though wary, Democratic support for Sanders’ bill. It has attracted 16 co-sponsors, one-third of all Senate Democrats, though most are from safely Democratic states.
The room where Sanders spoke held more than 200 people, including members of unions and progressive groups. Many waved posters and chanted “Medicare for all,” the name he has given his 96-page bill, which would gradually expand the health insurance program for the elderly to cover all Americans.
But support among Democrats for Sanders’ bill and similar measures by other Democrats, plus polling showing growing public backing, suggests the push for a single-payer system will be a major theme inside the party.
“We will defend it at every turn,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., another possible presidential hopeful, told the crowd about Obama’s law. “But we will go further.” Potential candidates Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kamala Harris of California also attended the event.
Sanders provided no details about the price tag of his measure or how it would be financed. Aides have said it would likely rely largely on income-adjusted premiums people would pay the government, ranging from zero for the poorest Americans to high levies on the rich and corporations.
People would no longer owe monthly premiums and other out-of-pocket costs like copayments, and companies would not have to offer coverage to workers. Sanders says most people and employers would save money.
The version he introduced during his 2016 presidential run was supposed to cost an enormous $1.4 trillion annually.
His plan would surpass Obama’s law in covering a long list of services, including dental, vision, hospital, doctors and mental health costs. Copayments would be allowed for prescription drugs.
Many Democrats from politically competitive states have shied away from Sanders’ plan, aware Republicans are ready to cast it as a huge tax hike and government-run health care.
“The president, as well as the majority of the country, knows that the single-payer system that the Democrats are proposing is a horrible idea,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
Meanwhile, Graham and three other GOP senators released details of their proposal to erase many of the subsidies and coverage requirements of Obama’s law and instead give block grants to states.