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OP-ED: Why we need ‘Medicare for All’

Dan Brook
Tribune News Service
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden speak during a break at the Democratic presidential primary debate at the Charleston Gaillard Center on February 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS)

Sen. Bernie Sanders is no longer running for president, but one of his ideas, “Medicare for All,” is more critical than ever. With more than 33 million Americans losing their jobs during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many are also losing their health care. That is, if they were fortunate enough to have it in the first place.

Even with Obamacare — certainly an improvement over free market fundamentalism — tens of millions of Americans are still uninsured, while most Americans with health insurance are underinsured.

The United States, with the world’s largest economy, needs to civilize itself by extending this right to all, instead of prioritizing the financial health of Big Pharma and Wall Street. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Bernie Sanders popularized Medicare for All, a policy he has been advocating for decades. Sanders’ version of universal health care — let’s call it Berniecare — includes dental, mental health treatment, optometry, long-term care, prescriptions and even hearing aids.

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Berniecare would mean that everyone has health care and no one would incur the medical debt that pushes more than half a million uninsured individuals into bankruptcy each year. With Medicare for All in place, Americans could have a system that’s healthier, more efficient and above all, more humane.

Replacing the current health care system would also be easier on our wallets. As a Yale University study published in the prestigious Lancet in February concluded, Medicare for All would save 68,000 lives and $450 billion annually, compared to the present mess.

Another recent report, published in PLOS Medicine, reviewed 22 studies on Medicare for All. It found that each of these studies — regardless of the ideological orientation of its researchers — had reached the same conclusion: passage of Medicare for All would result in substantial savings in money and in lives.

Dozens of countries have already implemented some version of universal health care, and none of them has sought to repeal it.

Take Canada, for example. Although its system is not perfect, Canada has universal health coverage, an absence of medical bills or billing offices, lower taxes, less anxiety and a longer average life expectancy than the United States. When Canadians have to go to a health clinic or hospital, the only fee they may need to pay is for parking.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, some Americans can get tested for free, but treatment for the disease can cost tens of thousands of dollars. With Berniecare, those infected with the coronavirus wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they can afford a trip to the hospital. This would reduce the pandemic’s death toll, and allow the country to recover more quickly.

A comprehensive single-payer, universal health care system would significantly reduce anxiety and debt, increase health and happiness and help the lower and middle classes the most.

So if we want a society that’s better equipped to handle a pandemic, while also being able to provide health care for people during normal conditions, we should follow Sen. Bernie Sanders’ lead and make Medicare for All a reality.

— Dan Brook teaches in the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at San Jose State University. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.