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Understanding Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal

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Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) is a candidate in the 2020 presidential election and a proponent of a one-payer healthcare program. Specifically, Sanders introduced a bill in the Senate and includes a plan in his campaign that has been labeled Medicare for All. Although credited with the term and with the initiative, it was actually Republican Senator Jacob Javits who proposed expanding Medicare to cover all Americans in 1970 through a program he called “Medicare for all.”

The program Sanders has proposed is somewhat different from that submitted by Javits and actually expands the concept of Medicare as it exists today. The senator cites the fact that medical bills are the primary cause of bankruptcy for Americans and that people need a healthcare program that will cover more, if not all, of their expenses while ensuring they receive the highest quality care. Sanders states that “We should be spending money on doctors, nurses, mental health specialists, dentists, and other professionals who provide services to people and improve their lives.”

The Sanders platform states that the way to reduce costs and to refocus payments, away from private insurance and giant pharmaceutical companies, is by  “Joining every other major country on Earth and guaranteeing health care to all people as a right, not a privilege, through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program.” His plan would virtually eliminate private insurance and replace it with the expanded government-sponsored program.

The Washington Times reports that the Medicare for All program proposed by Sanders “would cover all U.S. residents, including illegal immigrants. It would pay for doctor and hospital visits, prescription drugs, dental and vision services, and long-term care. Private insurance would be allowed, but only as a supplement.” Many of those services, including dental and vision, are not now covered under basic Medicare plans.

Medicare for All, as proposed by Sanders, would also focus on the affordability of prescription drugs specifically. His plan would:

  • Allow Medicare to negotiate with the big drug companies to lower prescription drug prices with the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act.
  • Allow patients, pharmacists, and wholesalers to buy low-cost prescription drugs from Canada and other industrialized countries with the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act.
  • Cut prescription drug prices in half, with the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act, by pegging prices to the median drug price in five major countries: Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Japan.