medicare-healthcare

Flickr / Molly Adams

The United States today is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t guarantee health care as a basic right to all its citizens. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced legislation this week to change that.

The bill, titled “The Medicare for All Act,” would gradually expand Medicare coverage to all Americans by reducing the program’s eligibility age incrementally over four years. In essence, the health insurance currently provided to seniors over 65 would be accessible to everyone.

More concretely, it would replace private health insurance corporations, and the immense profits, power and administrative bloat that goes along with them.

As Congress remains stymied in partisan gridlock and the president teeters between scandal and incoherence, now is precisely the time to put forward a bold vision for a more civilized, caring country.

Sanders campaigned around the country during the 2016 Democratic primary to massive, adoring crowds sharing his ideas for universal health care. While he gained widespread support from coast to coast, and especially in the Midwest, his colleagues in the Senate kept a measured distance. That’s changed.

Sixteen of Sanders’ Democratic colleagues have come out to co-sponsor the legislation, including rumored presidential hopefuls Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif. The list of supporters includes moderates in swing states like Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., as well as the expected progressive champions like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

To show just how far the idea has come in such a short amount of time, consider former Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., an outspoken critic of single payer who was active in blocking consideration of the idea during debate over the Affordable Care Act in 2009. Sanders was quoted at the time claiming Baucus wouldn’t support single payer in “a million years.”

Yet the week before Sanders introduced his latest bill, Baucus himself told a crowd in Montana: “My personal view is we’ve got to start looking at single-payer … It’s going to happen.”

Life comes at you fast.

If Medicare for all can no longer be cast aside as a fringe idea in Washington, it’s gone downright mainstream in the rest of the country. An April 2017 poll from The Economist and YouGov found that 60 percent of the country supports “expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American.”

The reasoning behind this support isn’t complicated. Anyone who’s had to deal with the complexity of buying insurance and comparing co-pays, deductibles, and premiums knows the system is in rough shape despite progress made by the Affordable Care Act. And that’s aside from all the headaches and heartaches that go along with actually trying to use your insurance, only to be told the care you need isn’t covered.

No other civilized country has a system like this. It’s time for the United States to join the civilized world.

The U.S. spends nearly twice as much per capita as any other nation on health care and has the highest prescription drug prices in the world. That means that any talk about serious change to the system is going to be expensive — and measured in trillions, with a T.

Rather than directly including the pay-for in the legislation, Sanders’ team put out a six-page memo outlining various viable revenue raising proposals, ranging from modest changes to the federal income tax to bold proposals for a wealth tax on the top 0.1 percent.

As the memo lays out, the 20 wealthiest Americans now own more wealth than the bottom half of the country combined. (That stat comes from a 2015 report I co-authored.) Increasing taxes on the wealthy is a logical way both to fund expansions in health care coverage and to reduce the growing concentration of wealth and its deleterious effects on society.

A coalition of grassroots support has rallied behind the bill, buoyed by National Nurses United and a wide range of doctors and other health care providers and patient advocacy groups. The path to passing the bill will be long, likely measured in years. Sanders’ legislation, and the widespread support from inside and outside the formal halls of power, is a big step forward.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies.