WASHINGTON – Former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders presented on Wednesday a plan to create a universal public healthcare system in the United States, a proposal with little chance of making headway in Congress but which has the backing of key Democratic lawmakers, including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.
“Today, we begin the long and difficult struggle to end the international disgrace” of high US healthcare costs. “The American people want to know what we’re going to do to fix a dysfunctional health-care system,” said Sanders in presenting the program, noting that US citizens pay higher healthcare costs – some 18 percent of GDP – than the residents of any other nation.
Sanders, considered to be the leading figure on the Democratic Party’s left wing, is proposing a gradual broadening of the current Medicare program, which offers medical coverage for people over age 65, to the rest of the public, replacing practically all private health insurance and giving the US government significantly greater control over healthcare costs.
During its first year, the program would include people over age 55 and everyone under age 18, and over the next four years other age groups would be included until all Americans had received a “Universal Medicare card,” according to the plan.
The proposal would offer full healthcare coverage ranging from the cost of hospital services to medicines, maternity services, mental health, dental and ophthalmology.
The senator also made mention of the efforts of Republicans to withdraw public healthcare from “up to 32 million” Americans by revoking the reform program implemented by former President Barack Obama.
He promised to fight to ensure that everyone is guaranteed healthcare “as a right, not a privilege.”
Sanders’ plan would be paid for by tax increases on all Americans, although that burden would be born in particular by the country’s wealthiest taxpayers.
The proposal has no chance of moving forward in Congress, where there is a Republican majority in both chambers, but it is an attempt by Sanders to shift the Democratic Party to the left.
For now, it is supported by influential senators such as Warren, Harris and Corey Booker, all of whom are considered to be possible presidential hopefuls in 2020.
However, lawmakers who have not backed the plan include Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the Democratic Party’s 2016 vice presidential candidate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.
The current US healthcare system is largely privatized, with most citizens receiving coverage through their employers.
Obama’s healthcare reform, known as ObamaCare, offered subsidies to help people buy health insurance and broadened access to healthcare coverage to people with preexisting conditions or lower incomes, levying fines against people who did not purchase health insurance.