Would save $400 billion on bureaucracy, enough to cover all 46 million uninsured Americans
Challenging head-on the powerful private insurance and pharmaceutical industries, Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a single-payer health reform bill, the American Health Security Act of 2009, in the U.S. Senate Wednesday. The bill is the first to directly take on the powerful lobbies blocking universal health reform in the Senate since Sen. Paul Wellstone’s tragic death.
The single-payer approach embodied in Sanders’ new bill stands in sharp contrast to the reform models being offered by the White House and by key lawmakers like Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Their plans would preserve a central role for the private insurance industry, sacrificing both universal coverage and cost containment during the worst economic crisis since the Depression.
In contrast, Sanders’ new legislation would cover all of the 46 million Americans who currently lack coverage and improve benefits for all Americans by eliminating co-pays and deductibles and restoring free choice of physician. The most fiscally conservative option for reform, single payer slashes private insurance overhead and bureaucracy in medical settings, saving over $400 billion annually that can be redirected into clinical care.
“This is excellent news for the nation’s health,” said Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program and a past president of the American Public Health Association. “There is now an affordable cure for our dysfunctional health care system. In the face of our present economic calamity, this is an urgent necessity.”
Highlights of the bill include the following:
- Patients go to any doctor or hospital of their choice.
- The program is paid for by combining current sources of government health spending into a single fund with modest new taxes amounting to less than what people now pay for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
- Comprehensive benefits, including coverage for dental, mental health, and prescription drugs.
- While federally funded, the program is to be administered by the states.
- By eliminating the high overhead and profits of the private, investor-owned insurance industry, along with the burdensome paperwork imposed on physicians, hospitals and other providers, the plan saves at least $400 billion annually – enough money to provide comprehensive, quality care to all.
- Community health centers are fully funded, giving the 60 million Americans now living in rural and underserved areas access to care.
- To address the critical shortage of primary care physicians and dentists, the bill provides resources for the National Health Service Corps to train an additional 24,000 health professionals.
“We are confident that Sen. Sanders’ bill will accelerate the national drive for the only reform that we know will work,” Young said. “A majority of physicians endorse such an approach. Fifty-nine percent of U.S. physicians support national health insurance. Two-thirds of the public also supports such a remedy. We remember well that President Obama once acknowledged that single-payer national health insurance was the best way to go. It still is.”
Sanders, who serves on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, is a longtime advocate of fundamental health care reform. His new bill draws heavily upon the single-payer legislation introduced by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) in 1993, S. 491, and closely parallels similar legislation pending before the House, H.R. 1200, introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.).
A single-payer bill introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), H.R. 676, obtained 93 co-sponsors in the House during the last session. It has been reintroduced in the new Congress as the U.S. National Health Care Act with the same bill number.