Bernie Sanders: It’s Time To Guarantee Health Care For All Americans As A Human Right – OpEd
Let’s be clear. The current healthcare system in the United States is totally broken, dysfunctional and cruel. It is a system which spends twice as much per capita as any other major country, while 85 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, one out of four Americans cannot afford the cost of the prescription drugs their doctors prescribe, and where over 60,000 die each year because they don’t get to a doctor on time.
It is a system in which our life expectancy is lower than almost all other major countries and is actually declining, a system in which working-class and low-income Americans die at least ten years younger than wealthier Americans.
It is a system in which some 500,000 people go bankrupt because of medically related debt.
It is a system in which large parts of our country are medically underserved, where rural hospitals are being shut down, and where people, even with decent insurance, have to travel hours in order to find a doctor.
It is a system in which, in the midst of a major mental health crisis, Americans are unable to find the affordable mental health treatment they need.
It is a system where, despite our huge expenditures, we don’t have enough doctors, nurses, dentists, mental health professionals, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals – and where we spend less than half as much of our healthcare dollars on primary care as do most other countries.
It is a system in which, while we are desperately in need of more health professionals, young people are graduating medical school, dental school or nursing school, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt; a system in which Black, Latino and Native American doctors and nurses are grossly underrepresented as medical professionals.
It is a system in which healthcare for most Americans remains attached to employment. Incredibly, during the pandemic when millions lost their jobs, they also lost their healthcare. It is a system in which the quality of care you receive in this country is dependent on the generosity of your employer or whether you have a union. Not surprisingly, workers at McDonald’s do not receive the same quality care as executives on Wall Street.
All of that has got to change. The function of a rational and humane healthcare system is to provide quality care for all as a human right. It is not to make tens of billions of dollars every year for the insurance companies and the drug companies.
Yes. It is long overdue for us to end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth that does not guarantee healthcare to all of our people. Now is the time to finally pass a Medicare for All single-payer program. And that is the legislation that I am introducing in the Senate this week with 14 co-sponsors. In the House there will be over 100 co-sponsors.
Let’s be honest. The debate over Medicare for All really has nothing to do with healthcare. It has everything to do with the extraordinary greed of the healthcare industry and their desire to maintain a system which makes them huge profits.
While ordinary Americans struggle to pay for healthcare, the seven largest health insurance companies in our country made over $69bn in profits last year and the top ten pharmaceutical companies made over $112bn.
The corporate opposition to the desperately needed reforms of our disastrous healthcare system is extraordinary.
Since 1998, the private healthcare industry has spent more than $11.4bn on lobbying and, over the last 30 years, has spent more than $1.8bn on campaign contributions to get Congress to do its bidding.
The pharmaceutical industry alone has over 1,800 lobbyists on Capitol Hill – including the former leadership of both political parties.
That’s how business is done in Washington. Well, we intend to change that dynamic. We intend to fight for legislation which ordinary Americans want, not what powerful special interests want.
Our Medicare For All legislation would provide comprehensive healthcare coverage to all without out-of-pocket expenses and, unlike the current system, it would provide full freedom of choice regarding healthcare providers.
No more insurance premiums, no more deductibles, no more co-payments, no more filling out endless forms and fighting with insurance companies.
And comprehensive means the coverage of dental care, vision, hearing aids, prescription drugs and home and community-based care.
Would a Medicare-for-all healthcare system be expensive? Yes. But, while providing comprehensive healthcare for all, it would be significantly LESS expensive than our current dysfunctional system because it would eliminate an enormous amount of the bureaucracy, profiteering, administrative costs and misplaced priorities inherent in our current for-profit system.
Under Medicare for All there would no longer be armies of people billing us, telling us what is covered and what is not covered and hounding us to pay our hospital bills. This simplicity not only substantially reduces administrative costs, but it would make life a lot easier for the American people who would never again have to fight their way through the nightmare of insurance company bureaucracy.
In fact, the congressional budget office has estimated that Medicare for All would save Americans $650 billion a year.
Guaranteeing healthcare to all Americans as a human right would be a transformative moment for our country. It would not only keep people healthier, happier and increase life expectancy, it would be a major step forward in creating a more vibrant democracy. Imagine what it would mean if our government worked for ordinary people and not just powerful corporate interests.
Bernie Sanders is a US Senator, and the ranking member of the Senate budget committee. He represents the state of Vermont, and is the longest-serving independent in the history of Congress.