Health care is top of mind once again in Washington, D.C., where our elected representatives have an opportunity to enact legislation that recognizes what more and more Americans see as a right rather than a privilege.

One major political party wants to degrade government-funded health care while the other one wants to save and improve it. We support the latter approach, which took a leap forward this week when Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed a single-payer health care plan he likened to “Medicare for all.”

Under the legislation, according to Sanders, “every family in America would receive comprehensive coverage, and middle-class families would save thousands of dollars a year by eliminating their private insurance costs as we move to a publicly funded program.”

The bill, which would be phased in over four years, calls for eliminating co-pays and deductibles and adding benefits for dental and eye care.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan deserves our serious consideration. Flickr: DonkeyHotey

What the bill does not include is how to pay it. The cost of a single-payer plan that Sanders produced during his 2016 presidential campaign was estimated at $32 trillion over a decade, according to an Urban Institute study.

However, various options are outlined in an accompanying white paper, including making income tax rates and the estate tax more progressive — that is, people earning more would be taxed at a higher percentage of their income than lower wage earners. Other proposals call for limiting tax deductions for the wealthy and levying a new tax on the richest 0.1 percent of Americans.

A call for more taxes would receive tremendous pushback from conservatives and businesses. But the white paper points out that our existing health care system requires that citizens shell out an annual average of $10,000 per person — “far more on health care per capita and as a percentage of GDP than any other country on earth.”

While the proposal’s chances of approval from a Republican-controlled Congress and White House are not good — President Trump called the Sanders plan a “curse” on the United States and its people — it is attracting the support of a lot of Democrats. They include several potential presidential contenders in 2020 (including Sanders) and members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation.

“We are all one diagnosis away from a major illness,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono. “When that time comes, no one should have to worry about whether they can afford the care that might save their life.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a co-sponsor of the House version of Sanders’ legislation, said, “Despite the smears and false advertising of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries and their benefactors on Wall Street, the American people see the urgent need to extend health care to all. Twenty-eight million people went without any kind of protection last year—the time to act is now.”

Sen. Brian Schatz, meantime, has his own admirable ideas for health care, a Medicaid buy-in proposal.

The Move Toward Reforming Health Care

Backing for major health care reform is also coming from the nation’s governors, including some Republicans, who worry about the medical costs to their states.

Even politicians as diverse as Max Baucus and Jimmy Carter are coming to the realization that the system is broken and a single-payer replacement is the best option.

Just four years ago, Sanders’ plan attracted no supporters in Congress. But his 2016 presidential campaign elevated the profile of health care, and it is certain to be a major issue in the 2018 mid-term elections.

The immediate hurdles are the minority leaders in the U.S. House and Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Their preference is to shore up the Affordable Care Act.

That should be a priority, but a long-term solution is the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress are focused on taking another stab at repealing and replacing Obamacare.

That effort has already failed many times, and the GOP alternatives would kick tens of millions of Americans off insurance or shift Obamacare monies to block grants for the states. And it comes as the Trump administration aggressively works to slash funding for Obamacare outreach.

The number of Americans without health insurance “dropped to a record low” in the final year of the Obama presidency, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It would be a moral failure to reverse that trend.

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