WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday proposed a government-run single-payer health care system called Medicare for All as Republicans offered a last-chance bill to repeal Obamacare by turning federal funding into block grants to states.
Neither bill is likely to be passed any time soon, several lawmakers said, but the two proposals show the deep divide in Congress over how the United States should fund and regulate medical care, hospitalization and the costs of prescription drugs.
That divide will continue to be an issue in next year’s midterm elections: Democrats will be forced to declare if they are for a single-payer system, and Republicans will face questions about whether they will ever repeal Obamacare.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Senate’s failure to repeal Obamacare, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have been holding hearings as they try to craft a bill to stabilize the shaken individual insurance markets.
Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced his bill at a Capitol Hill rally with several of the bill’s 16 Democratic co-sponsors, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and scores of supporters from labor unions and other progressive groups. Three-fifths of House Democrats back a similar bill in the House.
“Today all of us stand before you and proudly proclaim our belief that health care in this country must be a right and not a privilege,” Sanders said.
The bill would establish Medicare, the current system for those 65 and older, as the nation’s health care system; enroll all children up to age 18 during the first year; and phase it in over four years by lowering the age of adults each year until everyone is covered.
Sanders did not offer estimates of the cost or how he would pay for the bill. But the Medicare for All bill he promoted as he ran for president last year would cost $1.38 trillion a year, paid for by higher taxes, especially on the wealthy.
Most Americans would pay less for health care under his plan, he argued, because their bigger tax bill would be smaller than their current health insurance and out-of-pocket payments.
“As I travel around the state, one of the top concerns I hear from people is that health care is still too expensive,” said Gillibrand, who announced her support for Sanders’ bill Tuesday.
In another news conference, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) urged their Republican colleagues, President Donald Trump and his administration to get behind their last-ditch bill to repeal Obamacare — and the best chance to head off a single-payer system.
Republicans have until Sept. 30 to pass that bill with a majority vote, because that’s when their fast-track authority to avoid a filibuster ends. The $1.2 trillion bill would use funds from Obamacare tax credits, Medicaid expansion money and cost-sharing payments to insurance companies for block grants to states to allow them to manage health care. It would repeal insurance mandates and the medical device tax.
“Under this block grant approach you can actually complaint to a statehouse representative,” Graham said. “Under Berniecare, you can complaint to a faceless bureaucrat.”
Neither bill has support from Senate leaders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday declined to back any bill and said “the way forward” is “not clear.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said many Democrats had health care bills, and he added, “We’re looking at all of these.”