Senator Bernie Sanders is relaunching his push for a government-funded healthcare system, but the move could further divide Democrats on a key issue as the party seeks to regain its footing at the state and national levels.
While defending Obamacare – which Republicans unsuccessfully tried to dismantle in July – the Vermont independent declared that the way forward in the long-term was a “Medicare-for-all” single-payer system, a federally administered programme that would abolish the role of private insurers in basic healthcare coverage.
Single-payer healthcare is a system in which the government, generally through taxes, covers basic healthcare costs for all residents regardless of income, occupation or health status.
“Medicare-for-all …will be saving middle-class families substantial sums of money, and it will be guaranteeing health care to every man, woman, and child in this country,” Mr Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN.
Mr Sanders will soon be introducing a bill in the Senate that would create this system, a major plank of his 2016 presidential campaign, even if he knows it is unlikely to pass in the current political climate.
An Urban Institute study of Mr Sanders’ single-payer proposal during the campaign said implementing the plan would increase federal expenditures by $32 trillion over 10 years.
“Look, I have no illusions that under a Republican Senate and a very right-wing House and an extremely right-wing president of the United States, that suddenly we’re going to see a Medicare-for-all, single-payer passed,” Mr Sanders recently told NPR. “You’re not going to see it. That’s obvious.”
But he said the point of the bill is to force conversation about the idea.
“Senator Sanders has always believed that health care must be recognized as a right, not a privilege,” office spokesperson Daniel McLean told the Independent. “Like every other major country on Earth, every man, woman and child in our country should be able to access the health care they need regardless of their income.”
The concept of a single-payer system is becoming increasingly popular in the Democratic party – senators including Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris have expressed some support, and, for the first time, a majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives have now signed on to the single-payer bill that Congressman John Conyers has been introducing regularly for more than 10 years.
However, experts fear that supporting a single-payer programme could become a litmus test for Democrats, meaning members either support the bill or progressive political action committees, or PACs, try to prevent them from getting reelected.