On Wednesday afternoon on the second floor of the Hart Senate Office Building, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) officially unveiled his much-hyped Medicare for All plan. The senator was flanked by his 16 co-sponsors, many of them rising stars in the Democratic party and nearly every one of them talked about as a potential presidential candidate in 2020.
The basic idea of the plan is this: Over the course of four years, the state would expand eligibility for Medicare until every resident of the United States is ultimately covered by the single-payer, taxpayer-funded program.
“Today, all of us stand before you and proudly proclaim our belief that health care in America must be a right, not a privilege,” Sanders said. “Today, we begin the long and difficult struggle to end the international disgrace of the United States, our great nation, being the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care to all of our people.”
The idea is one Sanders has been advocating for decades and one he ran on in the Democratic primary during the last election cycle.
Until recently, the plan was a fringe idea in the Senate, but Hillary Clinton’s loss and the attempts by Republicans in Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act seem to have changed the calculus.
Pro Sanders bill:
— Kendall Breitman (@KendallBreitman) September 13, 2017
I've signed-on to the Medicare For All Act introduced by @SenSanders
— Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (@SenatorShaheen) September 13, 2017
Since details of the bill began to leak out Tuesday evening, many have raised questions about how the bill would be funded, which Sanders addressed briefly at Wednesday’s event.
“Under Medicare for All, the average American family will be much better off financially than under the current system, because you will no longer be writing checks to private insurance companies,” Sanders said. “While, depending on your income, your taxes may go up to pay for this publicly funded program, that expense will be more than offset by the money you are saving by the elimination of private insurance costs.”
“If every major industrialized nation on Earth can make health care a right, provide universal coverage to all, achieve far better health outcomes in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality, while spending far less per capita than we do, it is absurd to suggest the United States of America, the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, cannot do the same,” the white paper outlining funding says.
The paper proposes 10 ways to raise funds to pay for the proposed single-payer system, broken into three sections: options to save families and businesses on health care expenses, options to make the wealthy pay their fair share, and options to make Wall Street and large, profitable corporations pay their fair share.
The proposal that would be the largest revenue driver, according to the white paper, is savings from health tax expenditures, which Sanders’ office says would raise $4.2 trillion over 10 years.
“The biggest health expenditure is the preference that excludes employer-paid premiums from payroll and income taxes,” the paper says. “This is a significant tax break that would be eliminated under this plan because all Americans would receive health care through the new Medicare for All program instead of employer-based health care. The exclusion for contributions to cafeteria plans and the medical expense deduction will also be eliminated.”
The paper also proposes making the personal income tax more progressive, which they say would raise $1.8 trillion over 10 years. The paper proposes progressive income tax rates, beginning with a 40 percent marginal tax rate on income between $250,000 and $500,000 with increases up to 52 percent on income above $10 million.
Sanders painted the progressive income tax funding plan Wednesday as the polar opposite of Republicans’ health care plan, as the party has tried to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act a number of times in recent months.
“To my Republican colleagues, please don’t lecture us on health care,” Sanders said. “In the last few months, you, the Republican party, have shown the American people what you stand for when you voted for legislation that would throw up to 32 million Americans off of the health insurance plans they have, and, at the same time, give you tax breaks for the rich and large corporations.”
Sanders was joined at the press conference by a number of his co-sponsors, as well as activists who support the bill. They did not take questions.
Sanders’ plan hasn’t been scored by the Congressional Budget Office yet, but health experts found that the single-payer health care plan he pitched during the campaign would have cost at least $2.5 trillion per year.