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To mark Medicare anniversary, lawmakers and advocates rally for expansion of program to include every American

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, others push for single-payer health care system

By Public Citizen (news release)
July 31, 2013

WASHINGTON – To mark the 48th anniversary of Medicare, congressional lawmakers and consumer advocates today called for Medicare to be expanded to provide health insurance to all Americans and highlighted a new study showing that a Medicare-for-all, or single-payer, system would save enough money to cover all of the 44 to 50 million uninsured Americans.

Participants in a rally outside the U.S. Capitol included U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and representatives from Public Citizen, Physicians for a National Health Program, Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare, Kentuckians for Single Payer Healthcare, Health Care Now! and All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care–HR 676. The event was preceded by a congressional briefing about the cost savings of a Medicare-for-all system and followed by lobby visits.

Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is designed to ensure that many more Americans are covered by the time the plan is fully implemented, a single-payer system would achieve far greater savings than the ACA, which maintains the role of the costly and wasteful private insurance industry. It also would be less complicated to put into place because it is already in place for Americans over 65 in the form of Medicare.

"The solution to our nation's health care crisis isn't cutting Medicare," said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. "It's strengthening Medicare and expanding it to cover everyone. A Medicare-for-all, single payer system will ensure that every American is covered as a matter of right, and will save hundreds of billions of dollars by eliminating costs imposed by the wasteful private insurance industry."

The new study, done by Gerald Friedman, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and released today by Physicians for a National Health Program, shows that upgrading the nation's Medicare program and expanding it to cover people of all ages would yield more than a half-trillion dollars in efficiency savings in its first year of operation, enough to pay for high-quality, comprehensive health benefits for all residents of the United States at a lower cost to most individuals, families and businesses.

Under the single-payer system envisioned by "The Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act" (H.R. 676), the U.S. could save $592 billion – $476 billion by eliminating administrative waste associated with the private insurance industry and $116 billion by reducing drug prices – in 2014.

"The evidence is clear," said Dr. Robert Zarr, a Washington pediatrician and national board member of Physicians for a National Health Program, "An improved Medicare-for-all program is the most equitable and cost-effective way to assure that everyone, without exception, gets high-quality care. As a doctor who sees hard-pressed patients every day, I can tell you that the need for fundamental health care reform has never been greater."

Savings from a single-payer plan would be more than enough to fund $343 billion in improvements to the health system such as expanded coverage, improved benefits, enhanced reimbursement of providers serving indigent patients, and the elimination of co-payments and deductibles. The savings also would fund $51 billion in transition costs such as retraining displaced workers and phasing out investor-owned, for-profit delivery systems.

Medicare was signed into law on July 30, 1965. H.R. 676, introduced into the 113th Congress by Conyers and 37 initial co-sponsors, would establish a single authority responsible for paying for medically necessary health care for all residents of the United States.

"Access to quality, affordable health care is more than just a moral imperative," said Conyers. "It is a basic human right. The Affordable Care Act was a first step in reforming our broken health care system, but it cannot be the last. Until our coverage is truly universal, I will continue to fight – alongside groups like Public Citizen – for single-payer health care that will deliver quality health care to all Americans."

"It is long past time that we recognize health care is a right, not a privilege," said Sanders. "It boggles the mind that today, in America, we do not guarantee high-quality, affordable health care for all of our people. I am proud that Vermont is leading the nation in working to establish a single-payer health care system to provide better care at less cost."

"Medicare-for-all is the high road solution to the fiscal crisis impacting all levels of government," said Mark Dudzic, national coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare. "Instead of solving this crisis on the backs of working people, Dr. Friedman's study shows how we can save hundreds of billions of dollars while making quality health care a birthright for everyone in America."

www.citizen.org

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