Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., on May 10 introduced federal single-payer legislation to ensure that states implement Medicare-type systems for all residents.
Last year, when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said it was a "historic milestone," but added, "We also know that much work is left to be done." A major part of this work, many health care advocates say, includes moving to a single-payer, universal health care model.
The bill introduced by Sanders and McDermott would create such a model, something the AFL- CIO called for at its 2009 convention.
The bill requires each state to set up comprehensive health care services for everyone through a progressively financed system. "I think the best way to reduce costs and guarantee coverage for all is through a single-payer system like Medicare," said McDermott. "This bill does just that - it builds on the new health care law by giving states the flexibility they need to go to a single-payer system of their own."
The U.S. is one of the few nations in the industrialized world that do not guarantee health care. Introduction of this bill brings the goal of universal coverage a step closer, supporters say. Sanders regards the struggle as "the civil rights battle of our time."
At a Capitol Hill press conference, Holt Baker said, "We in the labor movement have long insisted that health care is a fundamental human right and an important measure of social justice. And for more than 100 years, we have fought for universal health care coverage based on a social insurance model, an approach that has proven to be cost-effective and efficient in countries across the globe and in this country to provide health security for seniors."
Jean Ross, R.N., co-president of National Nurses United, added that the bill will "create a more just health care system."
Registered nurses constitute the largest health care occupation, with 2.6 million nurses nationwide. But as profit-driven interests manipulate more patient care decisions, the ability of registered nurses to act as patient advocates is compromised.
Sanders, who is the only socialist in the U.S. Senate, told the UK Guardian, "It boggles the mind that approximately 30 percent of every health care dollar spent in the U.S. goes to administrative costs, rather than to delivering care. We must do better. Taiwan, for example, spends only a little over 6 percent of GDP on health care, while achieving better health outcomes on some key indicators than we do; yet they spend a relative pittance on administrative costs."
Sanders emphasized that "until we put patients over profits, our system will not work for ordinary Americans."