Sanders’s Single-Payer Bill: More Backing but Questions Remain

Bernie Sanders
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) unveiled his long-awaited single-payer health bill in Washington Wednesday afternoon, he had the backing of 16 Democratic senators, including top 2020 presidential contenders Sens. Kamala Harris (CA), Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Cory Booker (NJ).

That’s a third of a caucus that, even a year ago, had dismissed many of Sanders’s ideas — including making public colleges tuition-free — as unfeasible socialist fantasies.

During the acrimonious primary battle that underscored the growing chasm between the party’s establishment and progressive wings, almost all of the legislation’s co-sponsors flocked to Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, who said that universal healthcare coverage would “never, ever come to pass.”

Sanders had no co-sponsors when he last introduced a Medicare-for-all bill in 2013, when only 43% of Americans thought the federal government should be responsible for providing health coverage. It soared to 58% in May, around the same time Obamacare gained majority approval for the first time in its seven-year run.

A third of the country now approves of a single-payer health care system, turning the issue into a litmus test for Democrats considering a White House bid. Those who harbor doubt about it risk appearing as unconcerned about the struggles of cash-strapped Americans.

Sanders’s bill, dubbed the “Medicare for All Act of 2017,” would essentially beef up Medicare by adding dental and eye care services and eliminating copays and deductibles — while extending coverage to all Americans, including the undocumented. It would also mandate the enrollment in Medicare of all residents within four years, effectively eliminating private and employer-sponsored insurance.

None of this is likely to be even seriously debated at this point. And even if Democrats were to assume power in three years, the proposal faces an uphill climb in Congress and vehement backlash from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.  

Partisan gridlock and lobbying power aside, the current version of Sanders’s proposal raises the same technical questions that critics of single-payer have been bringing up for years. The plan omits the nitty gritty details of how the federal government would finance the new single-payer system. Experts from the Urban Institute estimate the cost to be at least $2.5 trillion a year.

That makes paying for such a plan tricky and could require a mixture of measures curbing the US’s sky-high healthcare costs per capita but potentially also tax increases.

Public opinion on universal health care tends to sway dramatically when the focus shifts from benefits to costs. When polls include questions about a steep tax hike needed to finance Medicare-for-all, support for the system plummets, even among progressives.

Watch the videos below to learn what lawmakers on both sides of the aisle feel about single-payer; and how the system works in Canada.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from sign (Joe Brusky / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0).

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4 responses to “Sanders’s Single-Payer Bill: More Backing but Questions Remain”

  1. Prefessor says:

    From a planet far, far away!


  2. Mackenzie says:

    Does Who What Why allow readers to criticize this plan? My last comment was not published.

    Personally I think this is going to be an absolute disaster. Since when has government EVER controlled costs or even made remotely good estimates? Also, with government involved in healthcare, what’s to stop them from controlling behavior of the citizens (as in “it saves the public money if you eat what we tell you, take vaccines like we tell you, etc”).

  3. Mackenzie says:

    This has “absolute disaster” written all over it. Just because they put the word “free” on something doesn’t make it so. The best part of the article was:

    Public opinion on universal health care tends to sway dramatically when the focus shifts from benefits to costs. When polls include questions about a steep tax hike needed to finance Medicare-for-all, support for the system plummets, even among progressives.”

  4. Cloudchopper says:

    The irrational fear about tax hikes would have to be explained to the public. Wouldn’t it be far easier to pay a little more in taxes and then have no monthly healthcare premiums, no $5,000deductibles, no co-pays etc?

  5. tom2 says:

    If this comes to pass, we won’t need a middleman. If the government has such colossal power as to force workers to pay for the health care of everyone else, why bother with medicare ? Just transform private medical manufacturers, facilities and licensed physicians, nurses and technicians into government property and employees. And when you get sick? Just visit the nearest government health clinic and they’ll fix you right up.