By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled the latest version of his ambitious “Medicare-for-All” plan on Wednesday, moving the healthcare debate among Democratic presidential contenders to center stage in the 2020 race.
The Sanders plan, similar to his 2017 proposal that languished in the Senate, would largely eliminate private insurance and shift all Americans into a Medicare-based government-run healthcare plan that Republicans have criticized as too costly and radical.
The bill has 14 Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate, including four of his presidential rivals – Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. The other White House contender in the Senate, Amy Klobuchar, supports universal healthcare and expanding Medicare but has not committed to plans that would eliminate private insurance.
A similar measure in the House of Representatives has more than 100 co-sponsors.
“The current debate over Medicare for All really has nothing to do with healthcare; it has everything to do with greed and profiteering,” Sanders said at a Capitol Hill event to roll out the proposal, where he was joined by Gillibrand.
“This is a struggle for the heart and soul of who we are as the American people,” he said.
Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont who mounted an unsuccessful 2016 White House run, has turned the proposal, once dismissed as too fringe, into a centerpiece of the Democratic Party’s agenda heading into the 2020 White House race.
At least 10 other Democrats vying for the right to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in 2020 have backed some similar form of government-run healthcare, and every Democrat supports taking at least smaller steps toward achieving universal coverage.
Other prominent Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have urged the party to focus on protecting and strengthening the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, which Trump and Republicans have vowed to dismantle.
The Sanders proposal, which has little chance of passage in the Republican-run Senate, expands on his old bill to include coverage of home and community-based long-term care services for people with disabilities.
Sanders does not put a price tag on the proposal, but would raise revenues to help pay for it through a combination of taxes on employers, individuals, businesses and the wealthy. He suggests that healthcare spending and administrative costs would decrease and costs for consumers would be reduced.
The liberal Urban Institute estimated the earlier Sanders plan would cost $32 trillion over a decade, with the additional taxes raising about $15 trillion.
Republicans have criticized the bill as a socialist pipe dream that would be too costly and weaken the U.S. healthcare system. They have promised to make it a key election issue in 2020.
“It’s the same tired, debunked logic that Washington, D.C., knows best and the American people can’t be trusted to decide what’s best for themselves and their families,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.
(Reporting by John Whitesidess; editing by Jonathan Oatis)