Medicare for all: Bernie Sanders calls for single-payer health system

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) delivers remarks at a National Nurses United event to honor Medicare and Medicaid's 50th anniversary on Capitol Hill in Washington July 30, 2015. © Gary Cameron
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wants the US to adopt a single-payer healthcare system. Vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders has called for the universal expansion of Medicare, a social assistance program that just turned 50.

Sanders first made the announcement on Wednesday night, in a live-streamed speech to 3500 meetings of campaign volunteers across the US. He repeated the call on Thursday, the 50th anniversary of Medicare, at a campaign rally on Capitol Hill organized by National Nurses United and attended by members of many other labor unions.

“The time has come also to say that we need to expand Medicare to cover every man, woman and child as a single-payer, national healthcare program,” Sanders said.

He took aim at the remarks by a Republican contender for the presidential nomination, Florida governor Jeb Bush, who said that he wanted to “phase out” Medicare and called the system “actuarially unsound.”

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare, it is important that we defend this enormously important program rather than talk about ending it,” Sanders said in a statement. “Our goal as a nation should be to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to all Americans, not end a highly-successful program which protects seniors and the disabled.”

Sanders’ presidential campaign page does not list universal health care yet. However, it can be found in tenth place on the 12-point agenda, over on his Senate website, “Health care as a right for all”:

“The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and recognize that health care is a right of all, and not a privilege. Despite the fact that more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance, we spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation. We need to establish a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.”

President Barack Obama tweeted in support of Medicare today, saying it was working towards the promise that “every American deserves a basic measure of dignity and security.”

Created in 1965 under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act, Medicare was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. The program’s initial goal was to provide health insurance to Americans age 65 and older, regardless of income or medical history.

Through the program is federally administered, it currently works through 30 private health insurance companies across the US. Rising costs and the longer-living aging population have threatened Medicare’s sustainability, though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has secured enough funding for the program through 2030.

Sanders has criticized pharmaceutical and insurance companies for inflating the cost of healthcare, saying that a single-payer system would be able to cut costs by negotiating the price of medication with manufacturers – something Medicare is specifically prohibited from doing at this time.

Though Sanders is regarded as somewhat of a wild card, with Hillary Clinton considered the Democrats’ front-runner, a Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday shows he would defeat the most popular Republican candidate at the moment, Donald Trump, by five percentage points. In a hypothetical race between Sanders and Trump, the Vermont senator would get 44 percent of the vote to the New York real-estate mogul’s 39.