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Bernie on Medicare for All

Bernie Sanders is the best-known advocate for Medicare for All. In this video, he eloquently summarizes the case for single payer: myriad serious failings of current insurance, vs. a system that provides health care for all, saving money in the process. Human rights over profits.

May 25, 2024

The day will come when we will succeed in making health care a human right.
YouTube video (7 min)
May 23, 2024
Bernie Sanders

Transcript:

Thank you very much for joining me. I want to say a few words today about our broken health care system and the need for us to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care for all as a human right. The quality of health care that a nation provides is not only a major factor in determining whether people live long happy and productive lives, but it gets to the heart of what a country stands for and what its values are. In a sense nothing is more important than that. In my view there is a fundamental and simple question that all of us have got to answer: Should health care in the United States be a right for all people or should it be a privilege based on our wealth and our ability to pay?

Let’s be clear the health care system of the United States is broken. It is dysfunctional and it is cruel. It is a system which spends nearly twice as much per capita as any other major country, while 85 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, where one out of four Americans cannot afford the cost of the prescription drugs that doctors prescribe, and where over 60,000 people die each year because they don’t get to a doctor on time.

It is a system in which our life expectancy is lower than almost all other major countries and is actually declining, a system in which working class and low-income Americans die at least 10 years younger than wealthier Americans. It is a system in which some 500,000 people go bankrupt because of medically related debt. It is a system in which large parts of our country are medically underserved, where rural hospitals are being shut down, and where people even with decent Insurance have to travel hours in order to find a doctor. It is a system in which amidst a major mental health crisis when over a 100,000 people in our country died last year from drug overdoses and where suicide, alcoholism, depression, and anxiety are rising, Americans are unable to find the affordable mental health care and substance abuse treatment that they need.

It is a system where despite our huge expenditures, we don’t have enough doctors, nurses, dentists, mental health professionals, pharmacists, and other health care providers. And where we spend less than half than in other countries on primary care.

It is a system in which people spend endless hours filling out form after form after form and arguing with insurance agents. It is a system in which the quality of care you receive is largely dependent on the generosity of your employer or whether you have a decent union. It is a system in which millions of people stay in their jobs not because they like them but because they need the insurance that the job provides.

Further, our current health care system is not, as everybody knows, comprehensive. Yes dental care is health care, yet tens of millions of our people including many seniors cannot afford to see a dentist. Yes the treatment of mental illness is health care, yet our long-standing mMental health crisis is now worse than ever. Yes providing services to millions of elderly and disabled Americans in their homes is health care.

Let’s also be clear and understand that while our health care system is failing ordinary Americans it is working exceptionally well for the people who own the system. While more than 60,000 people die from preventable deaths every year in the US, the seven largest health insurance companies in America made over 70 billion in profits last year, led by United Health Group which made over 32 billion. Not surprisingly the CEOs in the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry receive huge and I mean huge compensation packages.

In my view the function of a rational and humane health care system is to provide quality care for all as a human right. It is not to make tens of billions of dollars every year for the insurance companies and the drug companies. In 1965 president Lyndon B Johnson signed the Medicare and Medicaid Act into law declaring that the time had finally come to end “the injustice which denies the miracle of healing to the old and to the poor.” Today almost six decades later Medicare is the most popular Healthcare program in America, providing comprehensive health care for all those 65 and older.

It is also the best model in my view for health care reform in the United States in the face of a dysfunctional and failing health care system. The time is long overdue for us to improve and expand Medicare to cover all Americans and that is why I have introduced Medicare for All legislation in the Senate which would provide comprehensive health care coverage without out-of-pocket expense for every man, woman, and child in America – regardless of age, regardless of family income or where they live. Medicare for All is a system based on addressing the health care needs of the American people not the profit needs of insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry. Under Medicare for All there will no longer be insurance premiums, deductibles, or co-payments; no more worrying about whether you can afford to see a doctor, no more arguing with insurance agents about the nature of your coverage, no more hounding by bill collectors for unpaid medical bills, no more worries about going bankrupt if you end up in a hospital. This legislation not only expands Medicare to cover all Americans, it also significantly improves upon the services for the elderly and disabled.

Would a Medicare for All health care program be expensive? Yes it would. But while providing comprehensive health care for all it would be significantly less expensive than our current dysfunctional system because it would eliminate an enormous amount of the bureaucracy, profiteering, administrative costs, and misplaced priorities inherent in our current for-profit system. In fact the Congressional budget office has estimated that Medicare for All would save Americans $650 billion a year, a year.

Charting the right course, the humane and healthy course for this country, in terms of health care, is not going to be easy. We are taking on the most powerful economic and political forces in the entire world. But I have no doubt that the day will come sooner than later when we will succeed in making health care what it must be: a fully recognized and fully supported human right. Thank you all very much.

 

Comment by: Jim Kahn

As a health economist, I sometimes encounter a fraught situation: potential spending on life-saving health care exceeds available resources. In other words, the ethically compelling position that quality health care is a human right is unaffordable.

Not so with single payer. As Bernie notes (and has been demonstrated repeatedly by economists), single payer saves money while saving lives. Health care as a human right at no cost, indeed at lower cost. The economists’ supposedly non-existent “free lunch” is offered to us on silver platter.

All we need to sacrifice is massive profits for insurers and other health care profiteers. Sounds right to me.

Nobody makes the argument better than Bernie. Let’s redouble our efforts for the humane and efficient single payer path.

About the Commentator, Jim Kahn

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Jim (James G.) Kahn, MD, MPH (editor) is an Emeritus Professor of Health Policy, Epidemiology, and Global Health at the University of California, San Francisco. His work focuses on the cost and effectiveness of prevention and treatment interventions in low and middle income countries, and on single payer economics in the U.S. He has studied, advocated, and educated on single payer since the 1994 campaign for Prop 186 in California, including two years as chair of Physicians for a National Health Program California.

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