GOP healthcare bill’s failure reignites single-payer debate

Sen. Bernie Sanders plans to introduce legislation for a single-payer health system, though he and his allies don't expect the measure to pass in a Republican-controlled Congress. (sanders.senate.gov)

Republicans' failure to advance the American Health Care Act has led to a renewed push for a single-payer healthcare system despite steep political odds, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders set to introduce a bill to that effect in the Senate within the next few weeks.

On Saturday, Sanders told constituents at a town hall in Vermont that he would introduce a Medicare-for-all bill “within a couple of weeks,” Vermont Public Radio reports.

That was an abrupt change of course from his comments during a Friday interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN, when Sanders said it would not be possible to push through a single-payer system with the Republicans in control of both Congress and the presidency.

“I believe in a Medicare-for-all single payer program, but it ain’t gonna happen right now,” Sanders said. Instead, he pushed for reforms to the Affordable Care Act, including offering a public option to allow more people to access insurance, reducing the age of Medicare enrollment to 55 and allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies.

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A single-payer healthcare system was a major issue for Sanders’ presidential campaign, and Hillary Clinton later adopted some elements of his approach after she secured the Democratic nomination, including backing a public option.

During Saturday's town hall, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who said he would introduce a similar bill in the House of Representatives, also acknowledged that a single-payer plan would be unlikely to pass this cycle, but said continuing to talk about it is important.

“Well, you know, it’s a goal. In this Congress, we won’t pass it,” Welch said. “But I think we do have to keep the goal out there, because we need in this country, like any industrialized country, a healthcare system that’s affordable, accessible and universal.”

Some provider groups have also taken the AHCA’s failure as an opening to restart advocacy for a single-payer system. National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro said in a statement that recent town halls and public conversations have showcased that Americans are ready for healthcare reform of this magnitude.

DeMoro also said that Democrats didn’t go far enough with the ACA, and they failed to take advantage of the political control they had for several years to push through more radical health reforms.

“Where the Democrats, too, fell short was their failure in drafting the ACA to refute the underlying source of the healthcare crisis in the first place—the contradiction between a healthcare system that should be based on patient need and the public health and well-being, and the insatiable demand of healthcare corporations for profits first,” she said. “What policy makers should do now is learn the lesson that most of the rest of the world has discovered: Implement a system based on care, not profits, not corporate insurance.”

The California Nurses Association, a subgroup of NNU, held a march on Sunday in support of the Healthy California Act, which would establish a single-payer system in the state if passed.

Physicians for National Health Program, a nonprofit group that includes 20,000 physicians, medical students and health professionals, also said that Congress should pass Medicare-for-all legislation now that AHCA has failed.

“Let’s clear the drawing board—it’s time to adopt a simple, common-sense approach to national healthcare,” Carol Paris, M.D., the group’s president, said in a statement.