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Bernie Sanders Presses For Vote On State Single-Payer Option

By Jeff Muskus
The Huffington Post, Dec. 10, 2009

While Democratic leaders abandoned the public option on Thursday, one senator reignited his push for an amendment that would allow states to test-pilot single-payer health insurance systems.

No matter what federal health care reform finally looks like, the Senate should give interested state governments the right to prove single-payer critics wrong, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said during a floor speech Thursday.

"I think we have got to give states the option, the flexibility to go forward with a single-payer system if that is what they want to do," Sanders said. "Once they've done it and done it well, other states around the country will say, 'We want the same thing. It's the cost-effective way to provide comprehensive health care to all of our people.'"

Sanders said his state single-payer amendment "could pass and could have the Republicans' support." Given the death of even a weak public option from which states could opt out, he shouldn't bet on it. Sanders acknowledged he won't get much support for the federal single-payer amendment he penned with Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Roland Burris (Ill.), but he wants the chance to fight for it just the same.

"One of my concerns as we hurdle down to the finish line here, I don't know who will be able to offer amendments," Sanders said. "I offered the amendment, I want the right to have that debate. I don't need 20 hours, I don't need five days. I would love to discuss with my Republican friends that issue, Democrats, that's an amendment that has a right to be offered and should be offered."

States would still run the government insurance system even in Sanders' federal single-payer model, but the feds would cover the costs with additional payroll and income taxes. Though he said the current bill marks progress, Sanders said the needed debate and changes are far from over, and one change tops his list.

"I do not think we are at the two-yard line. I think a lot of work has to be done to improve this bill," he said. "I think at the end of the day, the only way you're going to provide comprehensive universal health care to all is with a Medicare single-payer system, which ends hundreds of billions of bureaucracy and waste engendered by the private insurance companies."