- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Sen. Bernard Sanders took to Facebook on Tuesday to pitch his “Medicare for all” plan to the public, hoping to rally liberal voters — but putting red-state Democrats in a tough spot ahead of November’s elections.

While Republicans heckled from cyberspace, saying his bill would upend existing coverage, Mr. Sanders said the private market is leaving behind tens of millions of Americans who do not hold coverage and cannot afford care.

“Let us be frank — we have a health system designed to make enormous profits for insurance companies and drug companies,” Mr. Sanders, Vermont independent, said in a webcast from the Capitol Visitor Center in D.C.

The senator said he went around “corporate media” to hold a national discussion on government-run, single-payer health care, so they wouldn’t be interrupted by commercial breaks from “the drug companies” and “Wall Street.”

Panelists said the lack of universal coverage is making it harder to manage health conditions, hiking costs down the road, and forcing the poor to form pre-dawn lines at clinics that offer charity care — a discomfiting scene in one of the world’s richest countries.

Mr. Sanders‘ push is nothing new. For years, he’s called for a system that gives Americans a publicly funded insurance card, allowing them to see the doctor without paying anything out-of-pocket or shelling out premiums to private companies.

Yet 2018 is no ordinary year. Democrats are hoping to turn President Trump’s low approval ratings into a “blue wave” that lets them set the agenda on Capitol Hill. They’re also emboldened by the GOP’s failure to repeal the 2010 health law and polling that suggests voters support governmental efforts to expand coverage and tamp down drug prices.

“It creates a very clear contrast. On one side, you have the Republican Party trying to take health insurance away from 30 million Americans. And on the other, you have an effort to guarantee health care to every American,” said Sanders spokesman Josh Miller-Lewis.

Nearly a third of the Senate Democratic caucus has co-sponsored Mr. Sanders‘ single-payer bill, including Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who is one of 10 Senate Democrats facing reelection this November in a state that Mr. Trump won in 2016.

She’s an exception, however. In fact, some red- and swing-state Democrats would rather not touch the issue at all.

“I’m not going to get into that,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, with a wave of his hand as he whisked through the Capitol on Tuesday.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota Democrat, offered a straightforward “no” when asked if she’d embraced Mr. Sanders‘ plan.

None of the red-state Democrats on the 2018 ballot face a serious primary challenger from the left, analysts said, so taking a stand for a “government-run” health care poses more risk than reward.

Republican operatives would relish the chance to tie vulnerable Democrats to a “government takeover” of health care and expand the GOP’s 51-to-49 majority in the upper chamber.

“Socialized medicine would be a $32 trillion disaster. As far-left Democrat leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren continue to push for single-payer, red state Democrats will be stuck between a rabid liberal base and voters at home who want nothing to do with government-run health care,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Bob Salera.

Democrats also don’t want to fall into the same trap as the GOP, which promised a bold effort to “repeal and replace” Obamacare for seven years, but lacked a surefire plan once it gained enough seats to enact one.

Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat who could square off with Republican Rep. Lou Barletta in November, said Congress already has a lengthy to-do list on health care, starting with bills that would stabilize Obamacare’s wobbly markets. More ambitious plans, including “Medicare for all,” need to be carefully vetted, he said.

“The more hearings the better, because it’s complicated,” he said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat whose state flipped to Mr. Trump in 2016, hasn’t sponsored Mr. Sanders‘ bill, though she did offer legislation that would let people aged 55 to 64 buy into Medicare.

Seven in 10 Americans told Kaiser Family Foundation last fall they support allowing people under age 65 buy into Medicare, while a majority held unfavorable views of GOP plans to repeal Obamacare over the summer.

“I suspect this contrast, rather than closely hewing to any one these ideas, will be the core theme of many Democrats,” said Andy Slavitt, who oversaw public insurance programs under President Obama.

Mr. Sanders himself says the single-payer fight could take a while, but that public opinion is on his side.

“Do we believe as a people that health care is a right or is it a privilege?” Mr. Sanders said. “I believe it is a right for every man, woman and child in this country. And so do most of the American people.”

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