Sen. Bernie Sanders introduces his "Medicare for all" bill.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Wednesday revealed he has 16 co-sponsors for his "Medicare for all" bill, which would implement a government-run, single-payer health care system in the U.S.
"The American people want to know what we're going to do to fix a dysfunctional health care system that costs us twice as much as any other country," he said during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. "That's what the American people want to know in terms of what we're doing."
"As of today, we now have 16 co-sponsors on this legislation," the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate added. "And we also have dozens of grassroots organizations all across America that are going to help us pass this bill."
Sanders' co-sponsors include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Kamala Harris (CA), Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), all of whom are seen as likely Democratic presidential candidates in 2020 like Sanders.
The other Democratic senators co-sponsoring the measure are Tammy Baldwin (WI), Richard Blumenthal (CN), Al Franken (MN), Martin Heinrich (NM), Mazie Hirono (HI), Patrick Leahy (VT), Ed Markey (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR), Brian Schatz (HI), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Tom Udall (NM) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI).
Sanders also defended the need for single-payer health care in the U.S. in both financial and philosophical terms.
"We are spending almost 18 percent of our GDP on healthcare," he said. "Healthcare for all is not only a moral issue, it is an economic issue."
Sanders added that the U.S. could learn from the health care offered by other nations, offering up the system in Canada as an example worth imitating.
"I think it is high time we look at what countries around the world are doing in offering high-quality care for all of their people," he said. "An example of a system that is working well and is highly popular is the Canadian system."
Sanders told listeners that himself and the co-sponsors who were present "proudly proclaim our belief that health care in America must be a right, not a privilege."
"Today we begin the long and difficult struggle to end the international disgrace of the United States, our great country, being the only major nation not to offer health care to all of its citizens," Sanders added.
"As the United States, our job is to lead the world on health care, not be woefully behind every other country."
Sanders additionally blasted the current state of the U.S. health care industry, singling out the drug and health insurance industries for criticism.
"The crisis we are discussing today is a political crisis, which speaks to the incredible power of the insurance companies, the drug companies and all those who benefit from the current system," he said.
"Today, we tell the drug companies that the American people are sick and tired of the greed of the pharmaceutical industry," Sanders added. "We are no longer going to be ripped off and pay the highest prices in the world for drugs."
Sanders additionally blasted the Republicans in Congress for their attempts to reform the health care system earlier this summer by repealing and replacing Obamacare.
"To my Republican colleagues, please don't lecture us on health care," he said. "In the last few months, you the Republican Party have shown the American people what you stand for. You the Republican Party have no credibility on the issue of health care."
Warren called co-sponsoring the bill "an enormous honor" before describing it as the next evolution of health care after Obamacare.
"Health care is a basic human right and we fight for basic human rights," she said. "We will not back down from our protection of the Affordable Care Act. We will defend it at every turn. We will go further."
"Today, it is an enormous honor to stand with each of you and say, 'Never again, in America, does somebody go bankrupt just because they got sick."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is back at it again with a new "Medicare for all" bill intended to set up a federally-funded single-payer health care system. He's been pushing the idea for years and this time he's gaining support from some prominent Senate Democrats, but experts say it's a long shot that the bill will make it very far, and Republicans haven't given up on their efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare just yet.
On Wednesday, Sanders will introduce his new plan and will be accompanied by a slew of Senate Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren (MA), Kamala Harris (CA), Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), who are co-sponsoring the bill.
Health care is a right, not a privilege. This week, I'll proudly join Senator @BernieSanders to co-sponsor Medicare for All.— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) September 12, 2017
The details of the bill have not yet been revealed, but Sanders' website says his plan would cover hospital visits, primary care, preventative emergency care, mental health vision, oral health, substance abuse services, prescription medications, medical equipment and supplies, and much more.
In order to pay for the universal health care, Sanders' plan calls for a 2.2 percent income tax hike for individuals and a 6.2 percent tax increase for employers.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 11 Senate Democrats had publicly declared they would support the bill, but experts and other lawmakers say it's dead on arrival.
"It's not going anywhere," said Gary Nordlinger, an adjunct professor with the graduate school of political management at George Washington University.
Nordlinger said it's already nearly impossible to get a Medicare for all bill through a Republican-controlled Congress and then signed by a Republican president, not to mention the bill isn't even close to having support from a majority of the Democratic caucus.
Senators are currently holding bipartisan hearings to stabilize the health insurance markets, and many Democrats say they're more focused on fixing the current health care system than trying to pass single-payer legislation.
"Right now our focus needs to be on making sure that the Republicans don’t unwind all the progress that we’ve made. There’s going to be plenty of time to have a conversation about what the U.S. health care system should look like, if or when Democrats get control of the Congress and the White House," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT).
"I’m really focused on bringing market stability right now. There are a number of Democratic options out there and I think that now is the time to take a look at all of them and understand what they are," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Nordlinger said Democrats may be hesitant to sign on to a single-payer bill because doing so would undermine the Affordable Care Act, which they've fought tirelessly to protect.
GOP lawmakers and political analysts say the bill has become a way for Democrats to appeal to progressive voters.
"I think Sen. Sanders' socialized medicine effort will have a very difficult uphill climb," said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO). "It may be a new litmus test for the left, but I don't think it has the support of the American people."
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon, Sen. John Barasso (R-WY) blasted Sanders' bill, saying it would cost Americans too much.
The Medicare for all plan would cost nearly $1.4 trillion per year, CNN reported. Sanders argues that cost would be offset by monthly savings on health premiums and deductibles.
A single-payer health care system likely won't come to fruition in the near future, but the amount of support Sanders' bill has gained demonstrates upward momentum in support for the idea.
It's not over for the GOP repeal-and-replace effort, though. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC), Bill Cassidy (LA), Dean Heller (NV) and Ron Johnson (WI) are also introducing a health care bill on Wednesday. Their plan seeks to give control back to the states by setting up block grants to allow state and local governments to set up their own health care systems.
Graham and Cassidy met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Wednesday to discuss the proposal, and President Trump has said he wants Congress to vote on a new bill as soon as possible.
However, lawmakers are skeptical the bill will make it to the finish line in time. Republicans have until the end of the month to pass the bill through the reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority of the votes in the Senate.
"Obviously, a lot of people are trying to understand what the bill does, how it works. I think there’s bipartisan interest in it, whether there’s bipartisan support for it, I think remains in question. Obviously we have to do something because the status quo still isn’t working," Gardner said.