Bernie Sanders on Single Payer, the Public Option and the "Disgrace" of the Current Health Care System

Sep. 8, 2009
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Fighting Bob Fest speaker Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the only independent member of the U.S. Senate, wonders: what’s so scary about government-run health care? Folks on Medicare and Medicaid, the military and veterans, kids from low-income families all rely on government-run programs for their health care.

“It’s not like government-run health care is new to this country,” Sanders told me on Tuesday afternoon. “Are there are problems in the VA and Medicare and Medicaid? Sure. But I think that people who experience those programs say that they prefer them to the private health insurance companies.”

Sanders said he prefers a single-payer system, but that a public health insurance plan is an important mechanism to preserve consumer choice and keep the private insurance companies honest. Sanders is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which included a public option in its reform bill.

“We passed a bill that didn’t go anywhere near as far as I would like to go,” Sanders said. “But among other things it included a public option, which I think is the minimum that we’ve got to do to make sure that the American people have a choice between a Medicare-type public option or a private insurance company, if someone wants to go that route.”

Expanding access to primary health care and increasing support for community health centers are also a big facet of health care reform, Sanders said.

Sanders didn’t want to predict the future of reform efforts in Congress and said he wanted to wait to hear the president’s remarks on Wednesday evening. But he called the current system a “real disgrace.”

“I think that it is a real disgrace that we remain the last nation in the industrialized world not to have a national health care program. Clearly the current system is the most wasteful and bureaucratic expensive in the world and yet we end up with 46 million Americans without any health insurance and even more who are underinsured,” Sanders said. “This year we think close to a million people are going to go bankrupt because of medically related bills. Some 18,000 will die because they didn’t get to a doctor when they should have because they didn’t have insurance. I think it’s very hard for anyone to tell me that the current health care system in this country is satisfactory. It is not.”

Sanders will talk about health care reform at Fighting Bob Fest on Sept. 12.

“This is my third time there,” said Sanders. “I love the idea of a large, progressive outpouring of people standing together to talk about how to go forward in pushing a progressive agenda for America. I’m a great believer in grassroots democracy and bringing ordinary people together.”


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