With more than 47 million Americans without health insurance coverage, it is clear that we need major changes in our country's health care system. The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to every man, woman and child in a cost-effective way. In that regard, the evidence is overwhelming that we must end the for-profit private insurance company domination of health care in our country and move toward a publicly-funded, single-payer Medicare for All system. Such a program would provide freedom of choice in terms of doctors, hospitals and other medical providers. Most importantly, it would save $400 billion a year in administrative waste by eliminating the private insurers' efforts to fight claims, issue denials and make sure that the people they cover are profit generators.
Yet, health care insurance coverage will not be enough to assure access to care. Over 55 million Americans, insured and uninsured, have trouble finding a primary care provider. That is why Senator Sanders has proposed a comprehensive set of proposals that will assure not just insurance coverage, but will increase the number of health professionals and community health centers to enable all Americans to receive affordable medical, dental, and behavioral health services. This is why the senator has put so much energy into expanding the Federally Qualified Community Health Center program and the National Health Service Corps.
Sanders seeks to secure sufficient federal funding so that there can be a health center in every county of Vermont. Currently, over 100,000 Vermonters receive their care at a community health center each year. Currently, there are 8 Community Health Centers with 40 locations in 11 counties. Health centers are community-based, non-profit organizations that provide medical, dental, and behavioral health services and prescription drugs on a sliding scale basis and are open to the whole community. The National Health Service Corps, which provides scholarships and loan repayment to those health professionals who agree to work in medical and dental under-served areas, is a vital resource for overcoming the shortage of health personnel in urban and inner city regions.
Sanders was successful in securing the largest increases in funding in their history for community health centers and the Health Service Corps in the reauthorization bill passed by the Senate health committee and in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the stimulus package).
Sanders has introduced the Senate's only single-payer health insurance proposal (S.703) which would created a state-administered system. He has also introduced legislation that would allow five states to experiment with a variety of methods to provide all state residents with health care coverage (S. 898). Through these experiments, Sanders believes the single-payer approach will be proven to be the most cost-effective program and will expand nationally.
Sanders will continue his fight in the Senate for lower-cost prescription drugs. He will support legislation that will allow importation of drugs and that will require Medicare to negotiate lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries.
During the 2009 health care reform debate, Sanders worked to create a strong bill to bring affordable coverage and greater access to quality health care, including dental and mental health, to every American. Sanders was among the most active proponents of including a strong public option in any reform package. He said, "Clearly, if we are serious about cost containment, private insurance companies must have competition from a public plan." Sanders believes states should be able to take the lead in demonstrating that single-payer health care is the best method of providing quality, affordable care to all Americans - and that the federal government should not stand in the way of these efforts by states to provide the best care to their residents. As a member of the health committee, Sanders was able to include in that committee's contribution to the health care debate a number of important provisions. He successfully added a provision to double penalties for health care fraud to address the billions of dollars in fraud and abuse committed by major corporations in the health care industry. He also included greater funding for community health centers to improve access to care and the National Health Service Corp to bring more health care professionals to underserved communities.
"It is an international embarrassment that the United States remains the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all of its people, while spending twice as much per capita as most other nations," said Senator Sanders.