Bernie Sanders introduces single-payer bill in Senate

May 12, 2011

Dear PNHP colleagues,

On Tuesday at a news conference in Washington, Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced the introduction of his national single-payer bill, the American Health Security Act of 2011, S. 915, with characteristic flourish.

Sanders’ legislation is a revised version of the bill he introduced last year. It has a companion bill in the House, H.R. 1200, sponsored by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.

McDermott was also present for the announcement. Speakers in support of the measure included Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO, and Jean Ross, R.N., co-president of National Nurses United.

In a Tuesday news release, PNHP welcomed the Sanders and McDermott bills, even though we expressed concerns about some of their provisions (see below).

In many respects, H.R. 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., has stronger provisions. Conyers’ bill also currently enjoys greater congressional sponsorship and wider organizational backing than the Sanders-McDermott legislation.

But having the public’s attention drawn to the benefits of a national single-payer system is a very good thing, particularly at a time when federal health programs are under assault and people are seeking more fundamental remedies to our persistent health care crisis. PNHP also remains supportive of state-based movements for single-payer too, of course.

PNHP chapters and activists are urged to visit or otherwise contact their congressional representatives to urge them to support single-payer legislation in the House (especially H.R. 676) and in the Senate (Sanders’ S. 915).

Finally, these bills, along with the current debate over the future of Medicare and the federal deficit, offer us opportunities to get our single-payer viewpoint published in letters to the editor or opinion pieces in our local newspapers. We encourage you to write one and send it in! (If you need assistance, contact Mark Almberg at

Our news release about the Sanders bill appears below, as does an opinion piece by Sen. Sanders that appeared Tuesday in The Guardian (U.K.).

Thanks for all that you do in support of single payer!


Quentin D. Young, M.D.
National Coordinator

Mark Almberg
Communications Director

May 10, 2011

Garrett Adams, M.D., president PNHP
Margaret Flowers, M.D., congressional fellow PNHP,
Mark Almberg, communications director PNHP, (312) 782-6006,

Doctors' group greets single-payer health bill in Senate

Physicians for a National Health Program says Sen. Bernie Sanders’ American Health Security Act would go far beyond federal health law, slash bureaucracy and lay the basis for universal, high-quality care

A national doctors’ group welcomed the introduction in the Senate today of a single-payer health reform bill that it said moves in the direction of providing comprehensive care to everyone, reducing wasteful paperwork, reining in health costs, and delivering better medical outcomes.

This morning Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced the introduction of the American Health Security Act of 2011, S. 915, in the U.S. Senate. Significantly, at Sanders’ side for the announcement was Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, among others.

“At a time when the airwaves are filled with talk about cutting or even ending Medicare,” said Dr. Garrett Adams, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, “Sen. Sanders has boldly stepped forward with the seemingly paradoxical proposition that the best way to financially strengthen the Medicare program is to upgrade it and expand it to cover everyone.”

Adams said that the improved-Medicare-for-all approach embodied in Sanders’ bill goes considerably beyond the Obama administration’s health law, which keeps the for-profit private health insurance industry at the center of the U.S. health system. This sacrifices universal coverage, efficiency and cost containment, he said.

“In contrast, Sanders’ legislation would cover nearly all 51 million people who currently lack coverage and improve benefits for everyone by eliminating co-pays and deductibles and restoring free choice of physician,” Adams said. “By slashing private insurance overhead and bureaucracy in doctors’ offices and hospitals, S. 915 would recapture about $400 billion annually that is currently wasted on unnecessary paperwork. That money, in turn, would be channeled back into high-quality clinical care.”

“Further, by using a single-payer system’s bargaining power, we would be able to negotiate lower prices for pharmaceuticals and other goods and services, allowing us to rein in rising health care costs,” he said.

Adams, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Louisville, Ky., continued: “We are confident that Sen. Sanders’ bill will spur the drive for the only national reform that the evidence shows will work and that poll after poll shows the public supports.”

“To be sure, the bill can still be improved upon,” he said. “For example, the program should cover all residents of the United States, including undocumented immigrants. That’s the right thing to do and it’s also good medicine. Similarly, the bill should exclude for-profit hospitals and other investor-owned providers such as dialysis clinics from the new system. Research has shown for-profit institutions deliver inferior care at inflated prices.”

“That being said, the introduction of this bill is good news for the nation’s health,” he said. “We salute Sen. Sanders for his consistently outstanding leadership on this issue.”

Sanders, who serves on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, is a longtime advocate of fundamental health reform. His bill draws heavily on single-payer legislation introduced by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., in the early 1990s, and closely parallels similar legislation pending in the House, H.R. 1200, introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. The program would be federally funded, but administered by the states.

Sanders is also working to get expedited waivers from the federal health law permitting states, including his home state of Vermont, to experiment with their own models of health reform.

A single-payer bill introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., H.R. 676, obtained 87 co-sponsors in the House during the last session. It has been reintroduced in the 112th Congress as the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act with the same bill number.


Physicians for a National Health Program ( is an organization of 18,000 doctors who support single-payer national health insurance, an improved Medicare for all. To speak with a physician/spokesperson in your area, visit or call (312) 782-6006.

Single payer health: it's only fair

U.S. health care is grossly distorted by waste and profit, while millions go uninsured. Americans deserve full universal coverage

By Bernie Sanders
Guardian, May 10, 2011

The United States is the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care as a right to its people. Meanwhile, we spend about twice as much per capita on health care and, in a wide number of instances, our outcomes are not as good as 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.

Under our dysfunctional system, 45,000 Americans a year die because they delay seeking care they cannot afford. We spent 17.6 percent of our GDP on health care in 2009, which is projected to go up to 20 percent by 2020, yet we still rank 26th among major, developed nations on life expectancy, and 31st on infant mortality. We must demand a better model of health coverage that emphasizes preventive and primary care for every single person without regard for their ability to pay.

It is certainly a step forward that the new health reform law is projected to cover 32 million additional Americans, out of the more than 50 million uninsured today. Yet projections suggest that roughly 23 million will still be without insurance in 2019, while health care costs will continue to skyrocket.

Twenty-three million Americans still without health insurance after health reform is implemented? This is unacceptable. And that is why, this week, Representative Jim McDermott and I are announcing the re-introduction of the American Health Security Act, recognizing health care as a human right and providing every U.S. citizen and permanent resident with health care coverage and services through a state-administered, single payer program.

Let’s face it: until we put patients over profits, our system will not work for ordinary Americans.

It is incomprehensible that drug companies still get away with charging Americans twice as much, or more, than citizens of Canada or Europe for the exact same drugs manufactured by the exact same companies. It is an outrage that insurers still often hike premiums 20 percent, 40 percent and 60 percent a year on individual policy holders; and some insurers still spend 40 cents of every premium dollar on administration and profits while lavishing multimillion-dollar payouts on their CEOs.

It boggles the mind that approximately 30 percent of every health care dollar spent in the United States goes to administrative costs, rather than to delivering care. We must do better. Taiwan, for example, spends only a little over 6 percent of GDP on health care, while achieving better health outcomes on some key indicators than we do; yet they spend a relative pittance on administrative costs.

I am very proud that my home state of Vermont is now taking big steps to lead the nation in health care by moving forward on a plan to establish a single payer health care system that puts the interests of patients over chasing profits. The American Health Security Act would make sure every state does the same – taking profits out of the equation by implementing a single payer system, but letting each state administer its own program, according to strict standards, in a way best suited to its needs.

The goal of real health care reform must be high-quality, universal coverage in a cost-effective way. We must ensure, to as great a degree as possible, that the money we put into health coverage goes to the delivery of health care, not to paper-pushing, astronomical profits and lining CEOs’ pockets.

Bernie Sanders is U.S. senator from the state of Vermont.