RAY SUAREZ: Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio outlined earlier this month a universal health-care plan he's termed "Medicare For All." The Kucinich plan would be a government-run program that eliminates private health insurers, and buys prescription drugs in bulk at a cost of $2.2 trillion a year once fully implemented by 2013. In order to pay for the program, Kucinich proposes a 7.7 percent tax on public and private employers, and removes $245 billion in business tax deduction. Congressman Kucinich, welcome to the program.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Thank you very much.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, we gave some basic outlines. Would the country ramp up into full coverage, or is this something that would be phased in over time?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, it would have to be phased in. The fact of the matter is, though, when you consider that the current health-care system, which is market-based, excludes so many people from health care, when you understand it's 41 million Americans don't have any health insurance, millions more who have health insurance can't get the kind of services they need, this health care system is failing most of the country. And my plan, which is guaranteed universal health care, single- payer Medicare for all, is a step in a direction of finally bringing some healing to the health of this nation, and I'm proud. And I'm the only candidate who has actually offered this kind of a plan.
RAY SUAREZ: And the total price tag is? And how would you pay for it?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, it would be paid for... when it's fully phased in, the cost would be $2.2 trillion. And it would be paid for by 7.7 percent tax paid by employers. Actually, employers right now are paying 8.5 percent, so it would save employers money, besides guaranteeing a healthier work force.
Currently, there's over a trillion dollars in the health care system from local, state and federal sources. Today, Americans are paying for universal health care. They're just not getting it. They're not getting it, because insurance companies are guaranteed to be able to jack up the price of health care with the paperwork transactions they have. You know, with the handling of Medicare, about a 3 percent cost for administration, the private sector, the cost of administration is something like 18 percent, which means that there's a massive amount of money that's in that system that is taken out as profit that can in effect go to the benefit of the health of the nation, and that's what my plan will do.
RAY SUAREZ: Employers listening to this program might recoil a little. They hear you talking about a 7.7 percent tax, a loss of the tax deduction that they get for employer-provided programs. But are you saying that they might end up breaking even in the end?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, let's look at it this way. Every employer out there understands they're at the mercy of the insurance companies as well. As the premiums go up and the co-pays go up, the deductibles go up and the range of services are contracted, employers are having more tensions at work over health care than almost any other issue.
My plan would result in employers being greatly benefited, because it would enable them to pay actually less than they pay now, 7.7 percent as opposed to 8.5 percent. It would assure a more productive workforce because the workforce would be healthier, because when they needed health services they'd get it. And it would end the employers being held captive by the insurance companies. So this ends up being a real benefit for our economy, for the employers, and certainly for those millions and millions of Americans who are desiring to have a health-care plan that will meet their needs. But with the private sector running health care in this country, not much of a chance that will happen.
RAY SUAREZ: During your campaign you've been saying you want to take the private industry out of health care and take the profit motive out of health care. If you do that, how do you answer those concerns that are often raised during universal care debates about maintaining quality for those people who are getting the care now?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, the fact of the matter is that quality is not always related directly to price. I mean, there are many people right now paying a high premium for their health care and are not necessarily getting the quality of care. They're not improving the access to care for those people. My plan would assure the greatest quality of all, because we'd be focusing solely on building up the present system, providing the broadest range of services available, making sure that people could get mental health care, making sure that people could get prescription drugs, making sure that people could get preventive medicine. And all of these things will be included in one system with a single payer. This would enable Americans to achieve higher quality of health because, first of all, they have more access to it; and secondly, because it's all handled by one institution, the government of the United States.
RAY SUAREZ: But with a plan like yours, the 40-plus million people, who at one time or another during the year don't have health care coverage, are undoubtedly better off. But what do you say to the other 220 million to reassure them that they don't have to lose something in order to get their fellow citizens covered?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Every American family knows that the insurance companies are ripping off the American people with respect to health care. The fact of the matter is there's discussions in American homes every day where somebody's sick, they need to go to a hospital, and then people have to think, "well, do we have the money for someone to be able to get well?" And you know, in this country, with so many resources, it's absolutely immoral that anyone should be deprived of health care because they don't have the money.
The fact of the matter is, that no family, no matter how well- off you are, can be assured that you'll have enough money to cover a sickness in the family. As a matter of fact, only universal health care will protect those American families who want to hold on to their home, who want to hold on to the ability to have a college education for their children, who want to make sure that if something happens and they're out of work they still have basic health care coverage. This is the only way that we'll make sure that our people are truly protected. And that's what it's about. Health care ought to be about the people.
You know, we provide police protection at a local level, fire protection, city services are such that people understand that there's... that government means something; there's a reason for government to exist. And I contest that health care is the fundamental reason and cause for the existence of government itself, because health care is something that is a basic right in a democratic society. So my plan responds not only to that hope, but it responds to the fact that our system of health care is failing the American people. And I want to see guaranteed universal single-payer health care for all, and that's what the Medicare For All plan is all about.
RAY SUAREZ: But if you're elected and you start to try to sell this plan, don't you have to radically change the terms of the debate given where it's at now in the Congress and the kind of plans that people are proposing today?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I'm the only candidate, it's true, who is willing to say, "Look, the private sector market-based health care excludes too many people, drives up the cost of health care, makes it impossible to get the care they need. That's why we need single-payer health care managed by the government." I mean, that's what works. The other candidates are saying, "Well, if we only give tax cuts or tax breaks to employers, that's going to help the system." You know, and they don't provide for people out of work, or their coverage is limited. We've already talked about proposals like that. They don't take us anywhere except keeping the same rotten system in place, which is denying people the health care they need.
My plan, on the other hand, will make sure that everyone is covered at all times, universal coverage, highest quality of care, making sure not only our children, but our elderly, are covered, providing a prescription drug benefit so our senior citizens aren't reduced to splitting their pills in order to keep their prescriptions lasting because the costs of them are going up so high. You know, this is a requirement of compassion in our society. I mean, what do we have a government for, if not to truly meet the needs of our people?
RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, thanks for being with us.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Thank you very much.