April 10 (UPI) -- Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday introduced his vision for universal healthcare, called Medicare for All -- a package that aims to cover all Americans and de-emphasize private insurance companies.
The Vermont senator's long-promised healthcare package includes a variety of changes, including greater care for the disabled, expanding the same coverage that's presently available to Americans over the age of 64.
In unveiling the proposal, Sanders painted a picture of a dysfunctional system he said is focused on profits and greed rather than what's best for the patient. He said the United States spends almost two times as much per capita on healthcare as any other nation while the average life expectancy of its citizens declines.
"Healthcare is a human right. Not a privilege," he said.
An analysis by Gallup this month found Americans borrowed $88 billion last year to pay for medical care.
So far, Sanders' Medicare for All Act of 2019 is supported by a number of lawmakers and more than 50 national organizations. It has more than a dozen co-sponsors in the Senate, including Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand -- all of whom are also vying with Sanders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
The sweeping healthcare proposal, which expands on Sanders' initial version two years ago, presents a threat to the private insurance market in the United States because it directs all healthcare costs to be covered by the government. More than 150 million Americans are presently covered by employer-offered private insurance and Medicare Advantage, and millions more buy plans through the Affordable Care Act.
Under Sanders' plan, all Americans would be insured by a government-run plan that would cover everything, including dental and vision. Private insurers would only be able to provide certain benefits that aren't covered by the proposed law.
Sanders, who says 70 percent of Americans support his plan, contends private insurance companies are motivated almost entirely by profits, rather than patient care.
"This is a struggle for the heart and soul of who we are as American people," Sanders said Wednesday. "The American people are increasingly clear: They want a healthcare system that guarantees healthcare to all Americans as a right."
Sen. Jeff Markley, D-Ore., said a seamless, single-payer system would allow every American to go to the doctor and fill prescriptions.
"How about we pay less than other countries and get more outcomes," he said. "We need every American off the couch and in the battlefield."
Sanders' town hall meeting Wednesday included a nurse and doctor who gave real-life examples of frustration medical professionals experience when dealing with private insurance companies.
While Sanders' proposal has energized many, it's also generated concern among others over how much it would cost to maintain. Sanders' plan Wednesday does not specify a price tag, but some analysts have said it could rise up to $30 trillion over 10 years.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement after Sanders' town hall, saying the price tag for such a plan would "cripple our economy and future generations with unprecedented debt."
Sen. Sanders issued a document Wednesday proposing ways to cover costs, including progressive taxes on American workers, more taxes for the wealthy and fees for large financial institutions.
Sanders' proposal differs a bit from the Obama-era ACA, which has received steady criticisms since it was enacted nearly a decade ago. President Donald Trump has unsuccessfully attempted to repeal the entire ACA since he took office more than two years ago, and he has succeeded at rescinding some provisions. Trump for months has repeatedly promised a forthcoming Republican healthcare initiative, but it hasn't yet been introduced in Congress. A previous GOP effort, the American Health Care Act, failed to pass the Senate in 2017.
The White House said the Trump administration is working on "realistic solutions" on healthcare.
"From the Green New Deal to Medicare for None, it's ironic that so many Democrats are choosing to pivot to socialism just as Republican policies are helping create an incredible economic moment for the American people," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said of Sanders' plan.