Vermont Business Magazine Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Thursday delivered an opening statement at the committee's hearing titled “Medicare for All: Protecting Health, Saving Lives, Saving Money.” The hearing is livestreamed on the Budget Committee’s website and Sanders’ social media pages.
Sanders’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:
Let me thank the committee members and panelists and everyone else who is here for attending the very first U.S. Senate hearing on Medicare for All.
Let me also thank the dozens of organizations throughout America who support Medicare for All and the tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and other health professionals who support this legislation.
Let me thank the 15 Senate co-sponsors that we have on this legislation and the 122 Members of the House who support similar legislation. And mostly, let me thank the American people who by the millions understand, as I do, that our current healthcare system is dysfunctional, extraordinarily wasteful and expensive, and cruel.
The American people understand, as I do, that health care is a human right, not a privilege and that we must end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all of its citizens.
It is not acceptable to me, nor to the American people, that over 70 million people today are either uninsured or underinsured. As we speak, there are millions of people who would like to go to a doctor but cannot afford to do so. This is an outrage. This is un-American. In the wealthiest country on earth, your health and your longevity should not be dependent on the amount of money that you have.
Healthcare is a human right that all Americans, regardless of income, are entitled to and all Americans deserve the best healthcare that our country can provide.
As Chairman of the Budget Committee, it is not acceptable to me that we end up spending over twice as much as virtually any other major country on health care, while our life expectancy and other healthcare outcomes lag behind most other countries.
Unbelievably, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), we are now spending $12,530 per capita on healthcare. This is an outrageous and unsustainable sum of money.
In comparison, the United Kingdom spends just $5,268 per capita on healthcare while Canada spends $5,370, France spends $5,564 and Germany spends $6,731 while providing universal care to everyone. The question that we should be asking is how does it happen that we spend so much money for healthcare, but get so little in return?
Frankly, I am tired of talking to doctors who tell me about the patients who died because they were uninsured or underinsured, and walked into the doctor’s office when it was too late. And we are talking about over 60,000 Americans who die every year because they are uninsured or under-insured. This is America. This is truly beyond comprehension.
I am tired of seeing working class families and small businesses pay far more for healthcare than they can afford which forces more than 500,000 Americans to declare bankruptcy each year because of medically related expenses. Families should not be driven into financial ruin because someone became seriously ill. How insane is that?
I am tired of hearing from Americans who lost loved ones because they could not afford the unbelievably high cost of prescription drugs, or hearing from constituents who are forced to cut their pills in half due to the cost. Today, almost 1 out of 4 patients cannot afford the prescription drugs their doctors prescribe.
You want to hear about crazy? Crazy is that people get sick. They go to the doctor. They get diagnosed and medicine is prescribed. But they can’t afford to buy the medicine. So they end up in an emergency room or a hospital at great expense to the system. That is crazy.
I am tired of talking with people who are struggling with mental illness but cannot afford the mental health counseling they desperately need. Last year, a record-breaking 100,000 people died of drug overdoses and I will tell you that in my office and I suspect in all of your offices we get desperate calls from family members looking for affordable mental health counseling and, far too often, that help is not there.
It’s not there because in this system, geared toward the profits of the insurance companies rather than to the needs of the American people we don’t have enough psychologists and counselors. We don’t have enough doctors. We don’t have enough nurses. We don’t have enough dentists. We don’t have enough medical providers in general. We do have enough people to bill us. We just don’t have enough people to provide healthcare to us.
I am tired of talking to people who have teeth that are rotting in their mouths, but cannot afford the high cost of dental care.
And on and on it goes.
And let’s be clear about something. The current debate over Medicare for All really has nothing to do with healthcare. Frankly, it is hard to defend this dysfunctional system.
This debate has everything to do with the unquenchable greed of the healthcare industry and their desire to maintain a system which fails the average American, but which makes the industry huge profits every single year.
While ordinary Americans struggled to pay for healthcare during the pandemic, the six largest health insurance companies in America last year made over $60 billion in profits, led by the UnitedHealth Group, which made $24 billion in 2021.
The CEOs of 178 major health care companies collectively made $3.2 billion in total compensation in 2020 – up 31% from 2019 – all in the midst of the pandemic.
According to Axios, in 2020, the CEO of Cigna, David Cordani, took home $79 million; the CEO of Centene, Michael Neidorff, made $59 million; and the CEO of UnitedHealth Group, Dave Wichmann, received $42 million in total compensation.
In terms of the pharmaceutical industry, last year Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AbbVie – three giant pharmaceutical companies - increased their profits by over 90 percent to $54 billion and the CEOs of just 8 prescription drug companies made $350 million in total compensation in 2020.
Let us make no mistake about it. The struggle that we are now undertaking, to guarantee health care to all Americans as a right and to substantially lower the cost of prescription drugs, is opposed by some of the most powerful forces in America – entities that have unlimited amounts of money. We’re talking about the insurance companies, the drug companies, private hospitals, medical equipment suppliers, Wall Street and other powerful entities.
In order to defeat the Medicare for All movement, these special interests have spent millions on 30 second television ads, full page magazine ads, and corporate-sponsored “studies” to frighten the American people about Medicare for All – which is exactly what happened before the passage of Medicare in the 1960s which was often attacked as moving our country towards “socialism.” Meanwhile, today, Medicare is the most popular healthcare program in the country.
Let me give you a few examples of the kind of money and power we are talking about.
Since 1998, the private health care sector has spent more than $10.6 billion on lobbying and over the last 30 years it has spent more than $1.7 billion on campaign contributions to get Congress to do its bidding.
The pharmaceutical industry alone has hired over 1,500 lobbyists – including the former leadership of both political parties to make sure we don’t lower the cost of prescription drugs.
That’s how business is done in Washington. Well, I have a radical idea. Why don’t we pay attention to the needs of ordinary Americans rather than the big money interests who control the healthcare industry?
Instead of a system that guarantees huge profits to the insurance companies and the drug companies, why don’t we have a system which guarantees healthcare to every man, woman and child in America in a cost effective way?
And that is exactly what Medicare for All does.
This legislation would provide comprehensive health care coverage to all without out-of-pocket expenses and, unlike the current system, it would provide full freedom of choice regarding health care providers.
No more insurance premiums, deductibles or co-payments.
And comprehensive means the coverage of dental care, vision, hearing aids, prescription drugs and home and community based care.
The transition to the Medicare for All program would take place over four years. In the first year, benefits to older people would be expanded to include dental care, vision coverage and hearing aids, and the eligibility age for Medicare would be lowered to 55. All children under the age of 18 would also be covered.
In the second year, the eligibility age would be lowered to 45 and in the third year to 35.
By the fourth year, every man, woman and child in the country would be covered by Medicare for All.
Further, unlike the current dysfunctional system, Medicare for All allows people the freedom to choose any doctor, clinic, and hospital without worrying about whether their provider is in-network or not. People will be able to make the health care choices that are best for themselves and their families without some insurance bureaucrat telling them which providers they can or cannot see.
Would a Medicare-for-all health care system be expensive? Yes. But, while providing comprehensive health care for all, it would be significantly LESS expensive than our current dysfunctional system because it would eliminate an enormous amount of the bureaucracy, profiteering, administrative costs and misplaced priorities inherent in our current for-profit system.
Under Medicare for All there would no longer be armies of people billing us, telling us what is covered and what is not covered and hounding us to pay our hospital bills. This not only saves substantial sums of money but will make life a lot easier for the American people who would never again have to fight their way through the nightmare of insurance company bureaucracy.
In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Medicare for All would save Americans $650 billion a year.
Now, trust me. I know the 30-second ads coming from the insurance and drug companies will tell you that if Medicare for All becomes law, your taxes will go up. And they are correct. But what they won’t tell you is that under Medicare for All, you will no longer be paying premiums, deductibles and co-payments to private health insurance companies.
And what they certainly won’t tell you is that Medicare for All will save the average family thousands of dollars a year. In fact, a study by RAND found that moving to a Medicare-for-all system would save a family with an income of less than $185,000 about $3,000 a year, on average.
Guaranteeing health care as a right is important to the American people not just from a moral and financial perspective; it also happens to be what the majority of the American people want. In 2020, 69 percent of the American people supported providing Medicare to every American.
Now is the time for Congress to stand with the American people and take on the powerful special interests that dominate health care in the United States. Now is the time to improve and extend Medicare to everyone.
WASHINGTON, May 12 – Senator Bernie Sanders