Healthcare 2020: Bernie Sanders
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Senator Bernie Sanders is nothing if not consistent. Acolytes and detractors alike acknowledge that the 78-year-old Independent has argued many of the same points and fought many of the same battles for decades. His signature policy proposals include free public college, free universal child care, and, most notably, a true single-payer healthcare system.
“The Damn Bill”
All the way back in July, Senator Sanders gave the 2020 Democratic Primary one of its first viral moments. Predictably, the conversation on the debate stage turned to Medicare for All and (just as predictably) things got heated. When Congressman Tim Ryan challenged Sanders on aspects of the plan, Sanders snapped back with characteristic intensity, “I wrote the damn bill!” It was a reminder that Sanders is not only a staunch advocate for universal healthcare, but has effectively become the advocate for it in America.
So, what does the damn bill say? In short, quite a bit. If passed, Medicare for All would guarantee healthcare to every American regardless of age or income level and cancel nearly all out-of-pocket expenses. What’s more, the plan provides a far broader range of coverage than similar ones in Canada and the European Union. Canada’s nationalized healthcare system, for example, does not cover vision and dental care, rehabilitative services, or in-home healthcare. Medicare for All would cover all this and more. The plan’s depth and breadth have made it both popular and controversial with voters. Questions remain as to how the government would fund such a sweeping program and whether or not the average American would pay more in taxes.
It is important to note that “Medicare for All” is not really Medicare at all. Sanders, if elected, would replace both traditional Medicare and the private insurance industry with something entirely new. That does not mean, however, that the millions of seniors enrolled in Medicare would lose coverage. They would instead see the federal government fill in the existing system’s gaps – and potentially save money all the while. While Medicare beneficiaries currently pay 20% of their medical bills (even after meeting their deductibles), the new system would make visiting the doctor or hospital essentially free.
Among the most notable changes to Medicare’s status quo would be the addition of coverage for long-term healthcare services. Though about half of seniors will require some long-term care, paying for it has typically meant facing high premiums or even securing additional insurance. Medicare for All would get rid of these costs entirely. By providing coverage for dental, vision, and hearing care, it would also eliminate the need to supplement coverage through Medicare Advantage plans.
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Sanders vs. The Drug Companies
On the campaign trail and the debate stage, Senator Sanders has repeatedly (one might say relentlessly) taken the pharmaceutical industry to task. On his website, he charges large drug corporations with “ripping off the American people” and invites voters to join forces and take them on together. A Bernie Sanders presidency, he suggests, would mean an end to pharmaceutical profiteering and the creation of a healthcare system that works for every American.
Current laws prohibit the federal government from negotiating with drug manufacturers. As a result, many of these corporations have no incentive to set reasonable prices. Senator Sanders would change this by passing the Medicare Price Negotiation Act. This would likely mean huge savings for most seniors on Medicare. In addition to eliminating nearly all medical expenses, Medicare for All would set a $200 annual limit on any individual’s prescription drug spending.
Additional provisions to Medicare for All would further reform the pharmaceutical industry. The proposed Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act would permit patients, pharmacists, and drug wholesalers to buy low-cost drugs from Canada and other nations across the globe. The rest of the world also plays a role in Sanders’ Prescription Drug Price Relief Act. This act would tie America’s drug prices to the median prices in Canada, the UK, France, and Germany. According to the Sanders campaign, this would halve the cost of prescription drugs.
Will My Taxes Go Up?
Under pressure from both Democrats and Republicans, Senator Sanders recently published a number of detailed proposals for funding his most ambitious social programs. In addition to savings generated by eliminating health tax expenditures, Sanders intends to raise funds with changes to personal and corporate taxation. The majority of the burden will fall on large corporations and the wealthiest American citizens. Those making over $10 million dollars will pay 52% income tax and the largest businesses will pay 32%. This pair of changes alone is expected to generate nearly $4 trillion.
The selection of funding options includes a 4% income-based progressive premium for all households earning more than $29,000. While this does represent a tax increase for some of the middle class, Sanders is quick to remind voters that this arrangement would significantly reduce the average family’s annual healthcare spending ($6,015). For many retired, fixed-income seniors, Medicare for All would not result in any additional taxation. With medical debt forgiveness, a cap on pharmaceutical drug prices, and the elimination of out-of-pocket spending, it may ultimately save them money. Proposed expansions to Social Security should also increase benefits to fixed-income seniors by more than $1,300 annually.