Last Friday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act which guarantees everyone in the US the ability to get health care without having to pay deductibles, coinsurance or other out-of-pocket costs during the coronavirus pandemic. Six other senators cosponsored the legislation: Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
The goal of the legislation is to ensure no one skips or delays care during this pandemic because of the cost. Americans should be able to get care without worry about whether they can afford it. The legislation covers all costs for people who are uninsured and all out-of-pocket costs for everyone else. And, it would stay in place until everyone was able to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The legislation, which is like the Medicare Crisis program sponsored by Representative Pramila Jayapal, is cost-effective and comprehensive. It relies on Medicare to cover people’s care, including prescription drugs, with federal dollars. In Sanders’ words, “When so many people in this country are struggling economically and terrified at the thought of becoming sick, the federal government has a responsibility to take the burden of health care costs off the backs of the American people. The legislation we are introducing today does just that.”
The public is solidly behind Senator Sanders’ proposal. A Data for Progress poll finds that nearly three in four voters (73 percent) favor having the federal government pay for people’s out-of-pocket health care costs during the pandemic. Notably, a majority of Republicans (58 percent) favor the legislation.
Far fewer voters support a proposal passed in the House of Representatives that pays the health insurance premium of people who have lost their employer coverage, through COBRA. Not only is Sanders’ proposed legislation less costly, it is also more comprehensive. If Congress pays for people’s COBRA coverage, people are still left with deductibles and coinsurance, along with restricted networks and other bureaucratic hassles. Deductibles in employer health plans average $1,800 a year. Moreover, people who did not have employer coverage who lost their jobs are left without any coverage.
In fact when voters understand the difference between the two proposals, 61 percent favor Sanders’ bill versus 14 percent who favor the COBRA bill. The COBRA bill benefits health insurers most; they would reap tens of billions of dollars in revenue if the Senate passes it. It only benefits the uninsured who had employer coverage if they can afford the out-of-pocket costs of their care
The Sanders bill also prevents hospitals and other health care providers and debt collectors from collecting medical debts, forbids private insurance companies from raising out-of-pocket costs and mandates data collection and reporting regarding COVID-19 health disparities.
Everyone in the country needs to be able to get treatment for the novel coronavirus before it is safe to reopen the economy. Moreover, the pandemic reveals how critical it is to everyone that anyone who is sick can get the care they need as quickly as possible. That is how to contain the virus.
More than 30 national organizations and unions support the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act. You can read the bill here.
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