Sanders: Health care reform must extend benefits to everyone

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(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders says it’s unlikely that he’ll support a health care reform bill unless the package includes a new public program – modeled after Medicare – that would make health care benefits available to everyone.

Sanders says the debate over the issue is one of the most fierce that he’s seen during his years in Congress.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) As a member of the Health, Education and Labor committee, Sanders is at the center of the debate over this issue in the U.S. Senate.

Sanders is a strong supporter of a national single payer system but he says there probably aren’t enough votes to pass this plan at this time.

At the very least, Sanders says any health care reform bill must give consumers a basic coverage choice.  They could keep their existing private policies or they could enroll in a new public program that would be similar to Medicare.

It’s a proposal backed by President Obama and a number of Senate Democratic leaders:

(Sanders) "What we’re seeing here on Capital Hill is the insurance companies fighting back strenuously and saying ‘look, if you have a public plan and there’s a level playing field people will leave the private insurance companies and go to the public plan, because it will end up being less expensive because of the fewer administrative costs. There won’t be any profits, there won’t be any excessive CEO compensation packages and private insurance companies will be in trouble.’ They don’t want a level playing field – they don’t want that debate."

(Kinzel) Sanders also thinks the legislation should include a strong payment reform component.  He says the current system is broken and wastes money:

(Sanders) "Instead of just paying people for every procedure that they do you want to look at outcomes. And there’s a lot of evidence out there that there are hospitals that are providing better quality care at lower cost than other hospitals are and we have to understand why that is. It’s not simply paying providers for more and more tests. It is making sure that the outcomes that take place are the outcomes that we want."

(Kinzel) Some senators want to pay for the legislation by taxing health care benefits. Sanders says he opposes that plan and instead favors using the income tax to raise new revenue:

(Sanders) "I think it reneges on promises that were made to millions of working people who fought for years to get decent health care benefits. So I would strongly oppose that. On the other hand, in America we have the most unequal distribution of income of any major country on earth, with the top 1% earning more income than the bottom 50%. I think those are the people, the people on top, who should be asked to pay their fair share of taxes." 

(Kinzel) Sanders says he’s also working to include a strong preventative care initiative in the overall legislation. 

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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