(CN) – Two weeks before the anniversary of the day Medicare became the law of the land, Senator Bernie Sanders called for expanding the insurance program to all Americans.
Channeling his inner Howard Beale from the 1970s film “Network,” Sanders called the U.S. health care system an “international embarrassment” and railed against the health care industry, repeatedly saying he was “sick and tired” of a system that leads to 30,000 American deaths a year and is designed solely to generate corporate profits.
“Frankly, I am sick and tired of talking to doctors who tell me about the patients who died because they came into their offices too late because they were uninsured or underinsured,” Sanders said.
“I am sick and tired of hearing from Americans who lost loved ones because they could not afford the unbelievably high cost of drugs.”
The plan would transition the current system to a single-payer system over four years. In the first year, the Medicare eligibility age would be lowered from 65 years old to 55 years old and would immediately cover children. In year two, eligibility would extend to 45-year-olds, and to 35-year-olds in the third year. By the fourth year, all Americans would be covered.
The plan also would expand existing Medicare benefits to include dental, hearing aids, and eyeglasses to the elderly.
Sanders said Americans would have the “complete freedom of choice” in their doctors or clinics.
“The American people want a simple straightforward system,” he said, claiming his plan would save families about $3,000 a year and up to $5 trillion over 10 years. That number comes from a 200-page report in 2018 by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Estimates from other groups suggest Sanders’ plan could save money via efficiencies not seen in the current patchwork insurance landscape. Others, like researchers at George Mason University, claim Sanders’ plan would cost $32 trillion over a decade.
Other presidential candidates have criticized Sanders’ plan. Former Vice President Joe Biden – who wants to “build on” Obamacare – said this month that Medicare for All proposals by Sanders and Sen. Kamala Harris of California would mean “getting rid of Obamacare, and I’m not for that.”
Sanders has predicted his plan – which he repeatedly and jokingly called “radical” – will likely face staunch opposition from powerful special interests in the health care industry and from Wall Street.
“We’re not taking care of the Republican Party and Donald Trump, we’re not just taking on elements of the Democratic Party, we’re taking on one of the most powerful industries in the world,” Sanders added during an online Q and A.
Sanders spent a good chunk of his speech railing against health insurers and pharmaceutical companies, noting they made about $100 billion in profits last year while one in five Americans cannot afford to fill their prescriptions.
He also decried a Washington awash in lobbyist money from those industries, and urged candidates for president to pledge not to take more than $200 in donations from pharmaceutical or health care PACs, lobbyists, or executives.
“It is time to tell [the health care industry] ‘we don’t want their money,’” Sanders said.
Sanders added he was “not going to waste my breath” expecting President Trump to take such a pledge.
“Now is the time, not for tinkering the edges, now is not the time for taking money, large campaign contributions from the insurance companies or the drug companies,” Sanders said. “Now is the time to do what the American people want us to do.”