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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/14/17

Most Americans want universal healthcare. What are we waiting for?

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From The Guardian

Establishing a Medicare for All single payer program will improve the health of the American people. It is the right thing to do.

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders
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As Americans, we need to answer some fundamental questions regarding the future of our healthcare system.

First, do we consider healthcare to be a right of all people, or a commodity made available based on income and wealth? Today, people in the highest-income counties in America live, on average, 20 years longer than people residing in the poorest counties. There are a number of reasons for that disgraceful reality, but one of them has to do with grossly unequal access to quality healthcare.

If you are upper-income and have good insurance, you go to the doctor on a regular basis, and life-threatening illnesses can be detected at an early stage when they can be effectively treated. If you are a working-class person without health insurance, or with high deductibles that keep you out of a doctor's office when you're sick, your chances of survival from a serious illness are significantly reduced.

In the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, should lower-income and working-class people have shorter and less healthy lives because they cannot afford the healthcare and medicine they need?

In my view, the moral answer is an emphatic No!

Second, why is our current healthcare system so enormously expensive? Today, despite having 28 million uninsured and even more under-insured, we are spending far, far more per capita than any other industrialized country -- all of which guarantee healthcare to all of their people.

How does it happen that we spend almost $10,000 per capita each year on health care, while the Canadians spend $4,533, the Germans $5,353, the French $4,530, and the British $4,125?

Why, with that massive level of spending, is our life expectancy lower than most other industrialized countries, while our infant mortality rates are higher? Why do we pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs when nearly one out of five adult Americans cannot even afford the medicine their doctors prescribe?

It is a system which makes CEOs and stockholders in the healthcare industry incredibly rich, while tens of millions of Americans suffer because they are unable to get the healthcare they need.

Here is the simple truth: the function of our current healthcare system is not to provide quality, cost-effective care for all. Rather, it is to create a complicated, wasteful and bureaucratic system designed to make many hundreds of billions a year in profits for insurance companies, drug companies and medical equipment suppliers.

What can we do to better serve the American people?

In the short-term, with conservative Republicans controlling the White House, and both the Senate and the House of Representatives, we should fight to pass legislation which enables people in every state to select a public option, similar to Medicare, at affordable rates. This will provide competition among expensive private insurance plans and a choice in those areas where insurance companies have fled.

Further, we need to lower the Medicare eligibility to age 55. This would be a major relief for millions of older workers who, today, are unable to afford the skyrocketing premiums they are paying.

Lastly, we must take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry and lower the cost of prescription drugs. There is no rational reason why pharmacists, distributors and individuals should not be able to safely import the same exact prescription drugs they use and sell today at far lower prices from Canada and other countries.

But even if these short-term fixes were made, it would still not be enough. The time is long overdue for a major overhaul of our healthcare system, one which creates universal, high quality and cost-effective healthcare for all.

I live in Burlington, Vermont, 50 miles south of the Canadian border. For decades, every man, woman and child in Canada has been guaranteed healthcare through a single-payer health care program. In fact, universal healthcare exists in every wealthy industrialized country on earth, except the United States. Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and many others -- all guarantee healthcare as a right. It's time we joined the rest of the industrialized world in that regard.

A half a century ago, the United States took a major step forward when President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation creating Medicare. Guaranteeing comprehensive health benefits to those over 65 has proven to be enormously successful and popular, and as a result, older Americans are living longer, healthier and happier lives. Now is the time to improve upon and expand Medicare, and make it available to every American -- regardless of age.

Just as when Medicare was signed into law in 1965, there will be enormous opposition to the creation of a Medicare for All program from powerful special interests. The insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, the medical equipment manufacturers, Wall Street, and everyone else who profits off of our current system will spend hundreds of millions of dollars telling us how terrible that idea is, telling us that we can't accomplish what every other comparable country on earth has done.

But the American people know better. They want to go forward. An April 2017 poll from the Economist found that 60% of Americans, including 75% of Democrats, 58% of independents, and 46% of Republicans, support "expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American." Only 30% of those polled were opposed.

Establishing a Medicare for All single-payer program will improve the health of the American people and provide substantial financial savings for middle class families. It is the right thing to do. It is the moral thing to do.

Now is the time for us to summon the courage to create a healthcare system which benefits all Americans, and not just those who make billions off of the current wasteful, bureaucratic and dysfunctional system.

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Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate's Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more...)

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