Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Maryland Representative Donna Edwards joined the rally celebrating the 50th anniversary of Medicare in Washington, D.C. this Thursday with several hundred nurses, health care workers, and labor allies.
Senator Sanders touted the success of the Medicare program and the millions of seniors and disabled patients it has helped. “Before Medicare, If you were poor and old or sick, you had no options, you died or you suffered,” he said.
The familiar Sanders crusade to fix financial inequalities is a key reason Sanders says he supports a single-payer system and promised to announce legislation within the next year. “We need to expand Medicare to cover every man, woman, and child,” he told the cheering crowd. “Every year, thousands die just because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. No one should go into the hospital and have to file for bankruptcy when they come out.” The Sanders plan, he said, will provide healthcare through the most “cost effective way, and that is a Medicare for all.”
Recent suggestions from Republican Party presidential candidate Jeb Bush that Medicare should be phased out has lead to linguistic punches from many progressive thinkers including economist Paul Krugman, who wrote this week “It’s the very idea of the government providing a universal safety net that they hate, and they hate it even more when such programs are successful.”
Senator Sanders told The Hill Bush’s comments are an example of how far right the Republican Party has become when their so-called moderate candidate is advocating “phasing out” Medicare.
“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare, it is important that we defend this enormously important program rather than talk about ending it,” Sanders continued. “Medicare provides health care to 51 million American seniors and people with disabilities and has saved the lives of countless Americans. Further, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, the finances of Medicare have been significantly improved and it is now fully funded for the next 15 years through 2030. Our goal as a nation should be to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to all Americans, not end a highly-successful program which protects seniors and the disabled.”
Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) followed Senator Sanders speech with a powerful story about her grandfather who died at an early age forcing her grandmother to scrape together money to cover her healthcare costs.
“My grandmother lived much of her life before Medicare,” Edwards told AlterNet in a statement “I know how much she and our family struggled to pay medical bills. Thanks to Medicare, Americans like my grandmother can see their doctor and not go broke paying medical bills. This is why I continue to fight to protect Medicare and ensure that all Americans can lead healthy and productive lives.”
“After 50 years, we have a lot of experience with Medicare,” National Nurses United co-President Jean Ross, RN, said in a statement. “Enough time to see that it works, has kept tens of millions of Americans out of poverty, and remains enormously popular.”
The coalition of nurses and other health care professionals have organized a day of actions including lobbying legislators in Washington to encourage expanding Medicare for all. Other cities including Boston, Detroit, El Paso, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Oakland, Portland, Maine, St. Paul, and Lakewood, Ohio will be holding rallies, town hall meetings, parties, picnics and barbecues where nurses and other health care workers can celebrate the success of Medicare and talk about ways to expand the program to cover more people.