Sanders nationwide Town Hall renews push for Medicare for All
Video snapshot via YouTube

WASHINGTON—Before a packed U.S. Capitol hall of supportive citizens, and a nationwide social media/cable TV audience, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., used a national “Town Hall” meeting to renew his push for Medicare for All.

Declaring nationwide government-run health care systems work better and provide better outcomes than the U.S.’s jerry-rigged, insurer-controlled “system,” Sanders again made the case for the measure.

Medicare for All would abolish the role of insurers in health care, along with their spending for execs’ high pay and advertising. Other layers of private enterprise – such as so-called pharmacy benefit managers – would be reduced thus cutting U.S. medical overhead costs, speakers said.

Instead, the government would handle collecting Medicare revenue, billing amounts and payments, just as it does for Medicare for people aged 65 and over now. Medicare’s overhead costs are 1 percent to 3 percent of total spending, Sanders and other speakers noted. The insurers’ overhead, including their high profits, is 11 percent-13 percent.

Sanders made Medicare for All a key plank in his 2016 run for the Democratic presidential nomination, drawing wide interest and backing. Now 16 Democratic senators, including virtually all of the presumed contenders for the party’s 2020 presidential nod, co-sponsor it. Congress’ ruling Republicans oppose it.

And 21 unions, led by the Steelworkers and National Nurses United, are pushing for Medicare for All. The AFL-CIO Executive Council also made it a top priority in a statement just over a year ago. The NNU renewed its push for Medicare for All in California testimony at a Jan. 17 state legislative hearing.

And NNU backs Lieut. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Medicare for All supporter, for the gubernatorial nod, while criticizing another contender, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, for repeating insurers’ talking points against government-run single-payer health care.

Sanders marshalled evidence and testimony from town hall panel speakers, to show Medicare for All would be cheaper and produce better outcomes than the current U.S. health care system. And while taxes would go up to pay for Medicare for All, worker and family insurance premiums and co-pays, which are much costlier to almost everyone, would vanish, putting more money in workers’ and families’ pockets, the senator said.

“The ads say ‘Bernie wants to raise your taxes.’ It’s true. But if I told you that instead of paying $15,000 a year for private insurance, you would pay $5,000-$7,000 a year in taxes, you would say ‘Where do I sign up?’”

Sanders kept the focus on the other speakers, who documented how Medicare for All would help everyone from nurse practitioners to business owners to – especially – patients.

“Thirty-six thousand people died in the U.S. in 2016 as a result of being uninsured,” said Dr. Claudia

Fegan, chief medical officer of Cook County (Chicago) Stroger General Hospital. “Every day people come to see us with advanced diseases” which they had left untreated because they couldn’t afford health insurance, or afford to pay for their care when insurers turned them down. Cases like that make her a strong advocate for government-run single-payer health care.

A typical case, she said, involved a 64-year-old salesman who came to County’s emergency room last year with extreme and untreated high blood pressure. He had been holding out on seeking treatment until he turned 65 and could sign up for Medicare. But he finally had to go to the hospital in extreme pain – and the doctors found his kidneys had failed.

If single-payer had been there for the salesman, and the other patients Fegan cited, they could have seen doctors for preventive care, “which would have been much cheaper,” she noted. “And the salesman could have gotten dialysis before his kidneys failed.”

Deborah Wachtel, a nurse practitioner from Burlington, Vt., who specializes in adult care, said trying to get insurers to pay for patients’ medications “is like a circus. One patient has a $4 co-pay” for a medication “and another’s insurance company requires a $1200 co-pay” for that same medication for the same condition. The result is patient #2 goes without.

That prompted Sanders to point out enactment of Medicare for All – unlike the current Medicare system – would let the government mandate what prices it would pay for drugs, on behalf of its citizen consumers, to the drug companies, and not the other way around.

That’s important, the physicians representing Canada and Norway said on another panel. The Canadian M.D. said drug price controls are the one hole in Canada’s vaunted national health care system. The Norwegian M.D. added that if someone was to tell her patients they had to shell out thousands of dollars for prescriptions or in deductibles, before insurance kicked in, “They would say ‘Are you crazy?’”

Richard Master, CEO of a $200 million yearly business, MCS Industries of Easton, P., that employs 180 people, got involved in the single-payer campaign after insurers kept raising his firms’ premiums and his workers’ co-pays, eating up their raises. He also noted the insurers, going over his workers’ data before setting premiums keep asking him “why we have so many workers in their 50s and 60s,” leaving the implication the insurers want him to let them go.  He refuses, citing their experience and commitment.

“A strong system is one where more people can walk in the doctor’s door when they need to, and not the emergency room,” Sanders said. “We have a health care system – let us be frank – designed to make enormous profits for the insurance companies and drug companies. And prevention” of illnesses and disease “is not very high on their list,” he declared, to applause.

Sanders several shots at Congress’ ruling Republicans, who tried repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and failed after national uproar. He noted the dissent forced them to eliminate their own town halls and constituent forums when masses of citizens rose up and demanded an end to their schemes. And he predicted mainstream media – he named CBS and NBC – wouldn’t cover his town hall.


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.