WASHINGTON — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, often named as a potential Democratic presidential candidate, announced her support on Tuesday for Sen. Bernie Sanders' forthcoming legislation to create a "single-payer," government-run health care system.
The New Yorker is among 10 Democratic senators to publicly announce support for the “Medicare-For-All Act of 2017,” a move that that strengthens her progressive bona fides if she were to decide to run in a Democratic presidential primary.
Sanders, who generated a huge progressive following during his 2016 presidential campaign, has introduced single-payer health care legislation three times in previous years and has never had a co-sponsor.
The bill he will introduce Wednesday includes a provision Gillibrand wrote to allow Americans to buy into a not-for-profit public health insurance plan during the four-year transition period to a single-payer system, a federally administered program that would eliminate the role of private insurers in basic health care coverage.
Gillibrand said she'll be "fighting with Bernie" to give "every American access to affordable, good-quality health care.”
“As I’ve been traveling around New York, the number one thing I keep hearing from New Yorkers is that people are very worried that their health care is still too expensive,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “Under the health care system we have now, too many insurance companies continue to value their profits more than they value the people they are supposed to be helping. It’s time for something better.”
In the lead-up to Sanders' bill introduction, other Democrats announced their support in quick succession Tuesday. They include Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. "Let's make healthcare a right, not a luxury," Blumenthal tweeted.
Other senators who previously announced their support include a who’s who in progressive politics: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Kamala Harris of California, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Their support raises the possibility that more than one Democratic candidate in 2020 will have announced support for a single-payer system. Along with Sanders and Gillibrand, Warren, Harris and Booker are also considered possible presidential contenders.
"Health care should be an American right, not a mark of economic status out of reach to many just because they don’t make enough money," Booker wrote in a Medium post Monday.
Sanders made single-payer legislation a focal point of his 2016 presidential primary bid against Hillary Clinton. During their campaign, Clinton questioned how he'd pay for his proposal and said she wanted to defend and build on the progress made by the Affordable Care Act. She accused him during a debate of wanting to "tear (the ACA) up and start over again," a claim he rejected.
While Sanders has defended the Affordable Care Act, he has long said the way forward long-term is a “Medicare-For-All” approach.
Republicans point to an Urban Institute study of Sanders’ campaign proposal for single-payer that says it would increase federal expenditures by $32 trillion over 10 years, though a Sanders aide says the forthcoming bill will cost less than the campaign plan.
The issue divides Democrats, with centrists preferring to focus on preserving Obamacare as the Republican-led Congress tries to repeal it. In July, Senate Republicans forced a vote on a House Democratic single-payer proposal and four Democrats and one independent — Sen. Angus King of Maine — joined Republicans in opposing the proposal. The remainder voted "present," at Sanders' request.
But support for a single-payer system is growing, with 33% of the public favoring the approach to health insurance compared with 21% in 2014, a Pew Research Center Poll found in June.
In the House, a record 117 Democrats have signed onto the single-payer bill by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.
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