With union backing, Sanders reintroduces Medicare For All
National Nurses United/Twitter

WASHINGTON —With strong union backing, led—as usual—by National Nurses United, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., reintroduced his Medicare For All legislation.

Sanders has 14 Senate co-sponsors and 110 in the House,  but the measure may not get much farther than Sanders’ own Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

That’s though academic studies estimate it would save Americans $650 billion in health care costs yearly and prevent insurers from killing 68,000 people yearly by refusing to pay for their care.

Medicare for All’s outlook is murky for several reasons. It may fall victim either to a Senate Republican filibuster or the “no new programs” dictate of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as part of his debt limit hike-budget freeze deal with Democratic President Joe Biden.

And powerful lobbies in the corporate class, specifically the health insurers and their right-wing allies, can be expected to mount a multi-million-dollar smear campaign against Medicare For All. It’s a direct threat to their very existence, not to mention their humongous profits gouged out of workers and consumers.

According to a Medicare For All fact sheet, 18% of the U.S. gross domestic product is spent on health care—far and away the largest share among developed nations—and health insurers raked in $69 billion in profits in 2022, up 287% in a decade. Big Pharma nabbed $112 billion in profits in 2022.

CEOs of 300 major health companies, including the insurers and hospital chains, took home $4.5 billion in compensation, with a third of that going to the insurers’  top 50 executives.

The health firms, including the insurers, also spent a lot to lobby lawmakers: $729.52 million last year to hire 3,299 lobbyists, OpenSecrets.org reported. Big Pharma accounted for just over half of that, $375.26 million, for 1,845 lobbyists.

Medicare For All would wipe out the insurers and their high executive pay and denial of care. It would also give the federal government—which now foots half of the nation’s health care costs—the power to dictate drug prices to Big Pharma, the fact sheet says. If passed, it would be phased in over four years.

It also “would provide comprehensive health care coverage to all with no out-of-pocket expenses, insurance premiums, deductibles, or co-payments. This includes coverage for primary care, vision, dental, prescription drugs, mental health, substance use disorder, long-term services and supports, reproductive health care, and more,” the fact sheet adds.

Without coverage, “millions of American families face bankruptcy and financial ruin because of the outrageously high cost of health care” and “one out of four Americans cannot afford the life-saving medicine their doctors prescribe,” Medicare For All’s fact sheet says.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.,Vt. | AP

The outlook and opposition didn’t stop Sanders, NNU, or their allies. The union put Medicare For All as a top priority as hundreds of its members lobbied lawmakers during National Nurses Week, May 6-12, a week before Sanders unveiled the latest version of the legislation.

Like the prior versions, Medicare For All would abolish the private health insurance industry and its high premiums, high co-pays, monstrous executive salaries, and increasing denial of care—often for flimsy reasons which override medical judgments, studies show.

“Astronomical health care costs and lack of access continue to drive individuals, families, and businesses past their breaking point while insurance companies continue to soak up billions of health care dollars,” National Nurses United said.

“Medicare has provided guaranteed health care for millions of seniors for more than 57 years. It’s time we have a Medicare For All, single-payer health care system that would end health disparities, effectively control costs, and assure that everyone has equal access to an excellent standard of care.”

The coronavirus pandemic exposed the need for Medicare For All even more, Sanders said. He estimated one-third of the more than 1.1 million people the pandemic has—officially—killed since the national emergency about it was declared in March 2020, have died due to lack of health insurance coverage.

That lack, he added, occurred because they couldn’t afford it, or, even if they had it, the private insurers denied so much care that it broke the sufferers from the modern-day plague.

“In America, your health and your longevity should not be dependent on your bank account or your stock portfolio,” Sanders said. “Health care is a human right, not a privilege.

Over 85 million people are uninsured or underinsured. As we speak, there are millions of people who would like to go to a doctor but cannot afford to do so. That is an outrage.

“After all the lives that we lost to this terrible pandemic, it is clearer now, perhaps more than ever before, that we must end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth to not guarantee health care to all.”

“Millions of people ration lifesaving medication or skip necessary trips to the doctor because of cost,” Jayapal explained. “Sadly, the number of people struggling to afford care continues to skyrocket as millions of people lose their current health insurance as pandemic-era programs end. Breaking a bone or getting sick shouldn’t be a reason that people in the richest country in the world go broke.

“There is a solution to this health crisis–a popular one that guarantees health care to every person as a human right and finally puts people over profits and care over corporations,” she added, citing 69% support in public opinion polls for universal health care.

“That solution is Medicare for All–everyone in, nobody out. I’m so proud to fight for this legislation to finally ensure all people can get the care they need and the care they deserve.”

“Every American has the right to health care, period. If you’re sick, you should be able to go to the doctor without being worried about the cost of treatment or prescription medicine,” added lead co-sponsor Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., whose late husband, Rep. John Dingell, was the original 1965 sponsor of Medicare.

“The pandemic didn’t create the flaws in our health care system, but it brought to light many of the shortcomings that have caused unnecessary and preventable hardship for countless American families for decades. We’ve been fighting this fight since the 1940s.”

Another fact sheet Sanders issued says that in the first year of the transition to Medicare For All, the Medicare eligibility age will be reduced to 55, and children up to age 18 would be covered. Deductibles for doctors, hospitals (Parts A and B), and drugs (Part D) will be eliminated. Seniors will get hearing aid, dental, and vision coverage. There would also be a transition plan to ensure nobody loses coverage.

In the second year, the Medicare eligibility age drops to 45 and in the third year, it declines to 35. In the fourth year, everybody would be covered.

Besides NNU, union supporters, so far, include the Postal Workers—who tweeted about it—the Theatrical and Stage Employees, the Service Employees, the Association of Flight Attendants/CWA, the Professional and Technical Engineers, the United Electrical Workers (UE), the Mine Workers, the United Auto Workers, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division/Teamsters, and the  National Domestic Workers Alliance.

But in an indication of where the House GOP majority is headed, the House Education and the Workforce Health subcommittee’s April 26 hearing on “making health care affordable for American families” opened with a full-on frontal attack on the Affordable Care Act by panel chair Rep. Robert Good, D-Va., a leading member of the hard-right so-called Freedom Caucus.

Good even charged the Democrats “are scheming with the Biden administration to force every American into a government-funded one-size-fits-all plan” through the ACA’s exchanges, rules, and subsidies. “It’s the proverbial Trojan Horse for Medicare For All.” The Republican solution? “Protect the free market and individual choice.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.