Democrats eyeing a 2020 presidential bid signed onto Sen. Bernard Sanders’ new “Medicare-for-all” bill Wednesday, insisting it won’t blow a hole in the federal budget.
Analysts have put the price tag for a national single-payer health system in the tens of trillions of dollars, and California scrapped its own plans this year saying it would double the state’s budget.
But top Democrats said they can defy the projections, believing that a government-run system will be able to find enough savings to pay for itself.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said a single-payer approach is “different way of looking at the problem,” and not only wouldn’t add to the debt, but would actually save the government in the end.
“Instead of giving money to insurance companies that are for-profit, that pay millions of dollars in CEO salaries you are allowing money to go directly to the caregivers and the doctors,” Mrs. Gillibrand told The Washington Times. “So it is much less money overall.”
Mr. Sanders released his long-awaited proposal Wednesday on Capitol Hill, and drew immediate support from progressive activists who said it’s the beginning of the next major health-care conversation in the U.S.
Joining Mr. Sanders, Vermont independent and a self-identified socialist, were a group of Democrats whom news reports have placed in the possible running for a 2020 presidential bid, including Mrs. Gillibrand and Sens. Corey A. Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala D. Harris of California, and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
The plan would give Americans an insurance card entitling them to publicly funded care, allowing them to see the doctor without paying anything out-of-pocket, or shelling out premiums to private companies.
His new plan hasn’t been run through budget projections yet, but the similar plan he outlined during the 2016 presidential campaign was scored by the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan watchdog, that estimated it would cost $25 trillion and add $16 trillion to the debt without additional offsets.
Patrick Newton, a spokesman for the group, said the costs of Mr. Sanders’ latest plan are likely to be similar.
“That is the most cynical analysis,” countered Mr. Booker.
He said health care costs now eat up 17 percent of the annual gross domestic product under the current system, which he said is far more than “competitor nations” and is hurting businesses in the U.S.
“So how can you tell me that what we are proposing is more expensive, when the competitor nations that have universal access have much lower cost in much better outcomes?” he said. “Anybody can actually step back and say that this is actually a cheaper way to go about it, a less expensive way, excuse me, to go about it, and that we could actually drive up outcomes much better than we are doing now.”
Recent polls suggest a slim majority of Americans like the idea of a single, government-run plan, though Republicans appeared to relish the bill’s advent, saying it gives them a chance to prod vulnerable red-state Democrats over “government-run” health care ahead of the 2018 midterms.
“Bernie Sanders’ $32 trillion socialist health care plan will force Senate Democrats to choose between liberal activists and common sense,” said Katie Martin, a spokeswoman for National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Democrats must come clean on whether they back Sanders’ plan for government-run health care, or if they will stand with taxpayers against this unrealistic boondoggle.”
Mr. Sanders offered few details Wednesday on how he plans to pay for his plan, though he pledged that higher taxes would be offset by zeroing out what Americans pay private insurers today.
His office also rolled out a menu of possible funding options that included a 7.5 percent payroll tax on employers, a designated 4 percent tax on income, and making the income tax code more progressive by raising marginal tax rates on the rich.
“Today, we begin the long and difficult struggle to end the national 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,” Mr. Sanders said.
Mrs. Harris, meanwhile, passed on the chance to weigh in on the cost questions — at least for now.
“There hasn’t been an assessment yet,” she said of the Sanders plan. “Then we can have a talk about it.”