Senator Sanders Introduces Single-Payer Bill in U.S. Senate

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) today introduced twin health reform bills in the Senate and House, both called the American Health Security Act of 2011.

The American Health Security Act would establish a single-payer health insurance program funded by federal taxes but administered by the states in accordance with federal standards. It would entitle every legal resident of the United States to comprehensive health care services. Private insurance companies would be limited to selling supplemental coverage.

Sanders and McDermott had introduced a similar bill in the previous legislative session, which according to NESRI’s human rights assessment met a number of key human rights standards. However, it fell short of satisfying the principle of universality, due to limiting the health care entitlement to legal residents. This has not changed in the current bill. View the assessment of the 2009 bill here.

The 2011 bill has been improved in other important ways: it calls on “the 112th Congress [to] recognize and proclaim that health care is a human right,” and it has a considerably more equitable financing mechanism, shifting from flat to progressive income taxes and including a surcharge on high income individuals as well as a tax on securities transactions (the sale and purchase of financial instruments such as stocks, options, derivatives and futures).

Here are quotes from Sen. Sanders’ press release:
“The United States is the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care as right to its people,” Sanders said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “Meanwhile, we spend about twice as much per capita on health care with worse results than others that spend far less. It is time that we bring about a fundamental transformation of the American health care system. It is time for us to end private, for-profit participation in delivering basic coverage. It is time for the United States to provide a Medicare-for-all single-payer health coverage program.” 

   […] While making the case for a single-payer system nationwide, Sanders applauded the Vermont Legislature which earlier this month voted to put the state on the path toward a single-payer system. Vermont, Sanders said, could become a model for the nation.

[…] “Until we put patients over profits, our system will not work for ordinary Americans.”

The Vermont AFL-CIO issued a press release welcoming the Sanders/McDermott American Health Security Act. Here are two quotes:

“This Bill complements the work we are doing in Vermont to become the first state in the nation to provide universal, affordable coverage,” said Mari Cordes, RN and President of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, of the American Federation of Teachers Local in 5221 Vermont. “It will put an end to the profiteering of private insurance companies, and instead provide health care as a public good for all. It couldn’t come at a better time.”

“This Bill would take a huge step towards realizing our human right to health care, and we welcome that this is the bill’s explicit goal,” said James Haslam, Director of the Vermont Workers Center. “With this bill we would no longer treat health care as a market commodity, sold to those who can afford it, but as a public good, shared by all. This would be the culmination of a growing people’s struggle for the human right to health care, not only in Vermont, but around the country.”

The national AFL-CIO issued a statement by Arlene Baker-Holt, executive vice president. Below are some highlights of her remarks:

We in the labor movement have long insisted that health care is a fundamental human right and an important measure of social justice. And for more than 100 years, we have fought for universal health care coverage based on a social insurance model, an approach that has proven to be cost-effective and efficient in countries across the globe and in this country to provide health security for seniors.

In September of 2009, as Congress debated the Affordable Care Act, the AFL-CIO passed a resolution saying:
Whatever the outcome of the debate over health care reform in the 111th Congress, the task of establishing health care as a human right, not a privilege, will still lie before us.  We continue to believe that the social insurance model should be our goal, and we will continue to fight for reforms that take us in that direction.

[…] Now that Rep. McDermott and Sen. Sanders have introduced their companion bills, I want to reiterate something else our convention resolution said loud and clear: the single payer approach is one that the AFL-CIO supports and that deserves dedicated congressional support and enactment.  And I want once again to renew the AFL-CIO’s longstanding call for congressional leaders to unite behind such a plan.

[…] We must move towards the social insurance model, and that is what the American Health Security Act will do. The AFL-CIO applauds Senator Sanders and Rep McDermott for introducing their single payer bills and we look forward to working with them to make a single high standard of health care the right of all Americans.