Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Sunday evening unveiled details of his plan to move the country beyond the Affordable Care Act to a universal national health care program that would cost about $13.8 trillion over the coming decade and require a sweeping increase in taxes, especially for the wealthiest Americans.
Under pressure from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to show his hand on his health care initiatives, Sanders’ campaign released details of the proposals just ahead of last night’s two-hour nationally televised Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina.
Health care reform has become a highly contentious issue in the Democratic race, with Clinton criticizing Sanders for proposing to supplant Obamacare just as the program is gaining traction and Sanders insisting that much more needs to be done to help an estimated 29 million Americans who still have no insurance coverage.
“We finally have a path to universal health care,” Clinton said last night during the debate. “We have accomplished so much already. I do not want to see the Republicans repeal it and I do not want to start over again with another contentious debate.”
Sanders said that he backed President Obama in winning passage of the Obamacare program of subsidized private insurance coverage sold on state and government operated exchanges, but that “right now we have to deal with the problem that 29 million Americans still have no health care.”
Congress, including many Democrats, rejected the idea of creating a national health program like the ones in Canada and Great Britain during negotiations early in Obama’s first term over the Affordable Care Act. However, Sanders for years has persisted in arguing in favor of “single-payer” or Medicare for all system in the spirit of Democratic presidents dating back to Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Essentially, under this approach, all Americans would be entitled to health care coverage closely akin to the quality of care currently provided by the Medicare program for elderly people.
While critics say such an approach would be far too costly and unwieldy, Sanders has argued that it would actually save trillions of dollars in the long run by eliminating inefficiencies and costly premiums of private insurance companies and enable the government to crack down on price gouging by the pharmaceutical industry.
According to The New York Times, here are some highlights of the plan:
- It would expand Medicare and “build on” the Affordable Care Act. Patients could choose their doctors and receive comprehensive care for various services, including hospital stays, emergency room visits and primary and specialty care.
- The program would be financed in part by a 2.2 percent health care premium, calculated under the rules for federal income taxes, and a 6.2 percent health care payroll tax paid by employers.
- Sanders would impose an estate tax on the wealthiest Americans and revise the federal tax code to make rates more progressive.
- Individuals earning $250,000 to $500,000 annually would be taxed at a rate of 37 percent. The top rate of 52 percent who apply to those earning $10 million or more annually.