WASHINGTON, May 15 – Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act to eliminate all out-of-pocket health costs for every person in America during the COVID-19 crisis. 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.) cosponsored the legislation.
“During this public health crisis, we must make sure that everyone in America is able to receive all of the medical care they need, regardless of their income, immigration status or insurance coverage. No one in this country should be afraid to go to the doctor because of the cost—especially during a pandemic. The American people deserve an emergency health care response that is simple, straightforward, comprehensive, and cost-effective,” said Sanders. “We should empower Medicare to pay all of the medical bills of the uninsured and the under-insured—including prescription drugs—for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. 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 of the backs of the American people. The legislation we are introducing today does just that.”
New polling reveals overwhelming enthusiasm for Sanders’ proposal. According to Data for Progress, 73 percent of American voters support Medicare covering all out-of-pocket health expenses during this emergency, including 58 percent of Republicans. In comparison, 55 percent backed a separate proposal to cover the cost of insurance premiums through COBRA, a federal program that allows those who have lost their jobs to temporarily retain their former employers’ health insurance coverage. When presented with evidence that Sanders’ emergency Medicare proposal is significantly less expensive despite covering millions more people, 61 percent preferred Sanders’ approach versus 14 percent who backed COBRA subsidies.
Sanders has previously argued that proposals to expand COBRA benefits with taxpayer subsidies would provide private insurance corporations with hundreds of billions of dollars in windfall profits, but do nothing to cover those who had already lacked employer-provided insurance, or those who continue to be deterred from seeking medical assistance due to high deductibles, which require roughly $1,800 on average in annual out-of-pocket spending before private insurance coverage kicks in.
Sanders’ legislation, in contrast, would simply leverage the existing Medicare payment infrastructure to affordably and efficiently pay all costs of treatment for the uninsured, and cover all out-of-pocket costs such as copayments and deductibles for those who already have public or private insurance. The bill also halts medical debt collections, prohibits private insurance companies from increasing cost-sharing, and requires ongoing data collection and weekly reporting on health disparities related to COVID-19. The legislation would be effective until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available to the public.
“Health care is a right, not a privilege,” said Gillibrand. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that every individual needs access to affordable health care, and the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act would cover everyone’s out-of-pocket- health care expenses during this emergency, regardless of insurance status. I am proud to partner with Senator Sanders and my colleagues to introduce this important legislation because we need to guarantee treatment and care to every individual American in order to safely reopen our economy.”
“As the nation continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that all families have access to the health care they need, without having to worry about out-of-pocket costs,” said Booker. “This legislation will ensure medical debt and health care costs aren’t barriers for those seeking care. This is especially important for low-income communities, communities of color, and immigrant communities, who face greater health inequities and are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”
“No American should ever go broke paying for medical care—especially not during a public health emergency,” said Warren. “With families struggling to make ends meet now more than ever, I’m glad to partner with Senator Sanders on a bill to eliminate out-of-pocket costs for necessary health care and halt medical debt collections during this economic crisis.”
“Americans shouldn’t worry about whether they can afford treatment if they come down with the coronavirus,” said Markey. “They shouldn’t worry about bankruptcy caused by medical bills or out-of-pocket costs. Congress has taken key steps to support our economy and our health care providers, but we must do more to protect all Americans in this time of crisis.”
“No family should go bankrupt because they had the misfortune of getting sick—especially as our nation continues to grapple with a dangerous pandemic,” said Merkley. “In a pandemic, every one of us is better off if someone who’s sick can go to the doctor and get care as soon as they need it. The time is now for Congress to eliminate out-of-pocket health costs for essential care and halt the collection of medical debts, to help everyone get the care they need and to help our country get through this pandemic.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed Americans under tremendous stress,” said Harris. “On top of wondering how they will pay rent and put food on the table, paying for medical treatment if they get sick should not be another worry for families. I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce this legislation to protect patients from cost barriers to the medical care they need to stay healthy.”
“Our broken health care system is failing to protect millions of Americans from the coronavirus pandemic. Now more than ever, we need to take bold action to prevent more Americans from getting sick or dying,” said Representative Jayapal, who sponsored the legislation in the House. “Everyone in America should have guaranteed access to health care, especially during national emergency.”
“The only way to remove the threat of COVID-19 is to keep everyone healthy and act without delay to contain the spread,” said Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, whose union endorsed the legislation. “When any individual has to weigh paying our bills or paying for medical attention, we are all less safe because public health takes a back seat to personal financial concerns. We need care for everyone, and even those of us with union negotiated healthcare coverage shouldn’t have to worry about copays, deductibles, or prescription costs. Our physical, mental, and financial health depends on full care for all.”
“Over 36 million people just lost their jobs, and in many cases their health care coverage as well, in the middle of a pandemic,” said Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works. “Even many people who still have insurance have co-pays and deductibles that can drive them into bankruptcy. People in their ‘50s and early ‘60s, who are likely to have more severe cases of COVID-19 but aren't yet eligible for Medicare, are in the greatest financial as well as medical danger. This is why we support the Emergency Health Care Guarantee Act to immediately cancel out of pocket costs for health care for everyone in this country during the public health emergency.”
“Registered nurses are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we know from our experiences at the bedside that people who are uninsured or underinsured are foregoing the health care they need because they can’t afford it,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, Executive Director of National Nurses United. “We cannot adequately respond to the COVID-19 crisis unless we guarantee health care to every person living in our country. The Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act would do just this, by ensuring that every patient gets the care they need without out of pocket costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. National Nurses United applauds Senator Sanders, Congresswoman Jayapal, and Congresswoman Bass for introducing this critical legislation, and urges every Member of Congress to support this bill.”
Sanders’ bill enjoys the endorsement of 32 national organizations and unions including the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, National Nurses United, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America; Center for Popular Democracy, Indivisible, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), MoveOn.Org, National Domestic Workers Alliance, People’s Action, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Public Citizen, Social Security Works, Sunrise Movement, United We Dream, Working Families Party, Business for Medicare for All, Debs-Jones-Douglass Institute, Democracy for America, Democratic Socialists of America, Economic Opportunity Institute, Economic Policy Institute, Faith Action Network, Healthcare-NOW, Hometown Action, Jane Addams Senior Center, Labor Campaign for Single Payer, Legal Voice, Medicare for All Now, Partners for Dignity & Rights, Presente.org, and Progressive Democrats of America.
Joining Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Bass (D-Calif.) in the House to cosponsor the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act are Representatives DeFazio (D-Ore.), Garcia, J. (D-Ill.), Kennedy (D-Mass.), Khanna (D-Calif.), Meng (D-N.Y.), Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Omar (D-Minn.), Pocan (D-Wis.), Pressley (D-Mass.), Raskin (D-Md.), Bonamici (D-Ore.), Dingell (D-Mich.), Cohen (D-Tenn.), Norton (D-DC), Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Espaillat (D-N.Y.).