On April 10, National Improved Medicare for All advocates participating in the HOPE Action Camp visited Senator Sanders’ office in Washington, DC to hand-deliver a letter outlining necessary improvements to his Medicare for All Act, S. 1804. The letter was originally sent to Senator Sanders on April 2. You can read it here.

Senator Sanders’ office had not replied to the initial request for a meeting, so advocates held a speak out in the office and videotaped it so that Sen. Sanders could hear their concerns. The video below is being sent to Sanders’ health staff.

The advocates, who represent a wide range of people who are directly impacted by the healthcare system, made the point that as grassroots activists we need a strong bill that we can champion. Bills are weakened as the go through the legislative process, and when it comes to health care, weak bills mean greater suffering and more preventable deaths.

Read more about the specific changes that must be made to Senator Sanders healthcare bill when he reintroduces it in 2019 in this handout, which you can also download and print to educate your community, here: bit.ly/BetterS1804.

Then let Senator Sanders know that we are counting on him to strengthen his bill to create a healthcare system that covers the health needs of everyone and provide high quality care from rural areas to towns to cities.

Here are summaries of the stories told by each advocate:

Ellen Barfield

Ellen Barfield from Baltimore, MD is a veteran who currently gets healthcare from the Veterans Administration for some long-term chronic illnesses and appreciates the good quality health care she receives. She points out that not all veterans have access to the VA and that with Medicare for all everyone should be included and nobody should be left out.

Erica Terence of Northern California talked about the need to ensure rural health facilities remain open. She described the long distances people already need to travel to get to a hospital. One way that Medicare for all can protect rural hospitals is to provide hospitals with a global budget that allows them to meet the medical needs of rural communities. She urged Sanders to include a global budget with budgetary controls for all hospitals.

Patricia Chadwick of Maryland, a disability rights activist, made the point that Medicare for all is not for everyone if long term care is left out. People who rely on long term care cannot access the healthcare system without it. And families should not be forced to live in poverty so that loved ones can qualify for long term care coverage.

Mark McKinley, Erica Terence and Patricia Chadwick from left to right

Ed Klein from Freeport, IL is currently on Medicare, but he has found it does not pay the cost of a very expensive essential medicine he needs. He wants Medicare to be improved to cover those costs and emphasized that for-profit insurance companies have no place in health care, as they put their profits before the health needs of people.

Phil Ateto from Annapolis, MD is with the Backbone Campaign, which gave Sanders an award a few years ago for moral courage. He was a strong supporter of Sanders’ presidential campaign but feels that even supporters need to urge him to fix the shortcomings in his Medicare bill. He wants a strong bill that will excite the single payer movement and that we can enthusiastically champion. He urges Sanders to introduce a companion bill to HR 676,  the gold standard of the single payer movement, and to not compromise on fundamental principles.

Mara Cohen, Mike Pappas, Phil Ateto and Ed Klein from left to right

Mike Pappas is a fourth year medical student in Washington, DC and will be practicing family medicine in New York next year. He sees from his current experience in medicine how profit corrupts the system. He urges Sanders’ bill to be amended to no longer allow investor-owned, for-profit facilities, as HR 676 does.

Mara Cohen from Chicago, IL has a spinal cord injury and is multiply handicapped. She is very pleased that HR 676 would include the long term care that she needs and was surprised and devastated that Sanders’ current bill does not include coverage for long term care. She urges Sanders to amend his bill to include people who have long term care needs and not force them to become paupers in order to get care through Medicaid. Requiring people with long term care to rely on Medicaid increases income inequality, another issue on which he has expressed concern.

Jody Coss of Northern Illinois, a nurse, talked about her son who has a lifelong problem with mental illness. She is concerned that Sanders’ bill allows for-profit facilities to continue, which put their profits over the health needs of patients. She urges him to remove for-profit facilities and include long term care as is done in HR 676.

Kevin Zeese, speaking

Kevin Zeese of MD Baltimore, MD told about his father having a stroke one year ago and how he was forced by Medicare to leave a health facility, even though he could not feed himself or walk because he was not making enough progress. His father would have needed to become a pauper to receive long term care under Medicaid. He urges Sanders to include long term care in his bill as this affects millions of people. He also told about a salesman coming to his mother’s senior center and selling her Medicare Advantage, which is just for-profit insurance under a different name. Medicare Advantage, like insurance, tries to avoid paying medical expenses and is more expensive for Medicare. He urges Sanders’ bill to ban Medicare Advantage from the start and expressed concern that the four year transition period will allow Medicare Advantage to be embedded deeply in Medicare and impossible to remove.

Margaret Flowers is a pediatrician who lives in Maryland. She practiced for 17 years and now is an advocate for national improved Medicare for all. She urged Sanders to remove payment systems that do not work from his bill. This includes ending value-based payment schemes and bundling under MACRA. When doctors are paid based on how well their patients do, this creates perverse patient-doctor relationships, and pushes doctors not to treat patients who are not doing well. Sanders’ bill should remove these counterproductive payment systems and return to fee-for-service or salaried medical doctors. She also described how 29,000 people die each year from lack of healthcare and urges a rapid transition, as a four year transition will mean more than 115,000 preventable deaths.

Mark McKinley of Louisville, KY thanked Sanders for advancing single payer healthcare and raising awareness about income inequality. He urged Sanders to remove all co-payments from his bill as well as eliminate for-profit, investor owned facilities. Taking these steps will ensure that Medicare for all will reduce economic inequality and remove barriers for healthcare.

To summarize, the changes needed in Senator Sanders’ bill when it is reintroduced in order to provide the healthcare people need and be consistent with HR 676 are:

  • Include long term care.
  • Remove all copayments and deductibles.
  • Implement a rapid transition to National Improved Medicare for All.
  • Prohibit Medicare Advantage Plans from the start.
  • Eliminate investor-owned health facilities.
  • Remove disproven payment schemes.
  • Include budgetary controls and global budgeting.

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