Health Care Reform Clears Hurdle

The Senate on Saturday night voted to take up health care legislation. Senator Bernie Sanders voted with the 60-to-39 majority that cut off a Republican filibuster and cleared the way for senators to begin to debate the bill. “While I voted to proceed to the health care legislation, I have made it clear to the administration and the Senate Democratic leadership that my vote for the final bill is by no means guaranteed.  In the weeks to come I intend to do everything I can to make this legislation stronger and more effective for working families and taxpayers in Vermont and America and something all Americans can be proud of.”

“I voted to proceed on health care reform,” Sanders added, “because our current health care system is disintegrating and must be reformed. Forty-six million Americans are uninsured, and 45,000 die every year because they don't have access to a doctor. We have almost one million Americans going bankrupt because of medically-related diseases, health care costs are soaring and we end up spending almost twice as much per person on health care as any other nation. It is clear that we need real health care reform.

Sanders hopes to strengthen by letting states become showcases for effective and affordable single-payer health care systems. He also said millions more people nationwide should be allowed to take advantage of a so-called public option that would give consumers a choice between Medicare-like coverage and expensive, for-profit private insurance policies.

As the legislation is refined in the coming weeks, Sanders emphasized that his support for the final bill hinges on whether the Senate makes the measure “stronger and more effective for working families and taxpayers in Vermont and America.”

A strong advocate of a Medicare-for-all single-payer system, Sanders doubted that his amendment to implement that approach would overcome intense opposition by lobbyists for the private health care and pharmaceutical industries. He is more optimistic about prospects for letting states like Vermont and California become models for the nation with their own single-payer programs.

Among other improvements Sanders hopes to see in the legisaltion is funding for a major restructuring of primary health care in America to greatly expand the number of community health centers and primary care doctors, dentists and nurses.

He also would make certain that health insurance, including out-of-pocket expenses, will be affordable for working families and the middle class. Cost-containment provisions to control soaring health care costs also are crucial.

In addition, he said, the $800 billion to $1 trillion needed to pay for the program over 10 years must be generated in a way that is fair and progressive.

A gaping gap in coverage under the Medicare prescription drug program should be eliminated, and the cost of prescription drugs for all Americans must be brought under control.

The final bill also must make certain that a woman’s right to choose is not weakened, Sanders said.

“We need real health care reform,” he concluded. “We cannot be the only country in the world that does not guarantee health care for all people.”