KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Senator Bernie Sanders was joined by several prominent Democratic senators today announcing a plan he calls Medicare-for-All.
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BERNIE SANDERS: All of us stand before you and proudly proclaim our belief that health care in America must be a right, not a privilege.
MCEVERS: It would expand the government-run health care system for the elderly to all Americans, eventually eliminating private insurance. NPR's Scott Detrow was at the unveiling, and he is with us now from the Capitol. Hey there, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So tell us more about what Senator Sanders is proposing.
DETROW: So yeah, he wants to gradually get rid of private insurance companies and expand Medicare so that it covers all Americans. Right now of course it's for age 65 and over. This plan would lower that age over the course of four years. Not only that - Sanders wants to get rid of all out-of-pocket costs - no copays, no bills - sounds very ambitious, also sounds very expensive. And you would need to raise taxes by a lot to pay for this.
MCEVERS: And Sanders himself has said before that this kind of thing can't pass, right? And in the past, it has been the kind of thing that Democrats have even kept their distance from. So who was with him in this today?
DETROW: Right. That's the most interesting aspect of all of this. Sanders introduced a very similar bill in 2013 - grand total of zero co-sponsors - this time around, 16. Not only that - it included just about every Senate Democrat who's been talked about as a possible presidential candidate. You had Kamala Harris from California, Cory Booker from New Jersey. Here's what Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: We will not back down in our protection of the Affordable Care Act. We will defend it at every turn. But we will go further. We will go further, and we will say that in this country, everyone, everyone gets a right to basic health care.
DETROW: So it's really looking increasingly likely that the party's next presidential nominee would endorse a plan that looks something like this.
MCEVERS: Is it just a political statement, or is single-payer health care now a serious goal for Democrats?
DETROW: So the bill itself is probably a political statement. This is clearly not something that Mitch McConnell is going to call up for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. But it is part of a real trend. For decades, Republicans have been painting Democrats as the party that wants government-run health insurance. They demonize it as socialized medicine, and Democrats have tried to keep that idea at arm's length.
But you see more and more Democrats backing either this bill or something similar, some sort of way to get what they call true universal coverage. So you've seen other plans to put a public option on the Affordable Care Act markets or to lower Medicare. A lot of bills like this are being introduced right now.
MCEVERS: So what do the party leaders - I mean we've talked about some Democrats here, but what do the party leaders who have control over the Democrats' agenda say about this?
DETROW: It's important to point out that not everybody is onboard. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has dismissed this, saying it's just not politically practical. And remember; she spent years wrangling votes, trying to pass Obamacare. She says it's great as a long-term goal, but she thinks states should do it first. And that's interesting because Democrats have a near lock on control in her home state of California. They could not pass single-payer this year. And in Sanders' home state of Vermont, Democrats tried to do it and couldn't.
So Pelosi and other Democrats say the focus right now should be on protecting the Affordable Care Act. Republicans are still trying to repeal it. President Trump today encouraged a new effort from a couple of Republican senators to do just that.
MCEVERS: NPR's Scott Detrow on Capitol Hill, thank you.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.