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Bernie Sanders: Spending ‘a lot’ on Medicare for All will save people ‘substantial’ money

Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Monday defended his Medicare for All plan, which has faced criticism from some of his 2020 rivals for its staggering price tag.

In an interview with PBS NewsHour’s anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, Sanders, I-Vt., criticized the current U.S. health care system as “dysfunctional” and said his plan would be less expensive than “if we do nothing.”

A report released by the Urban Institute last week found that his single-payer approach would cost $34 trillion dollars over 10 years, more than the total cost of social security, medicare and medicaid combined.

“Look, I am not denying that we’re going to spend a lot of money,” Sanders said in response. “But they cannot deny that we’re saving people substantial sums of money by eliminating all premiums. I talked to a woman in New Hampshire — $1,700 per month in premiums, huge prescription drug costs. Under our bill, no one pays more than $200 a year. The average American will pay less for health care under Medicare for All.”

More highlights from the interview

  • On his health since his health attack earlier this month: “I took some time off. I’m feeling great right now,” Sanders said. “We had a wonderful rally on Saturday, we’re going to Iowa in a few days. We’re back and running.”
  • On Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria: Sanders also strongly denounced President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria, saying the U.S. now needs to work with allies to bring stability to the region. “I think Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds, people who lost 10,000 soldiers fighting against ISIS, is one of the worst foreign policy and military decisions ever made by any president in the history of this country.” He went on to say Trump’s decision will “haunt” the U.S. and make allies question whether to trust the U.S. in the future.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one of those presidential candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders, joins us now.

    Senator Sanders, welcome back to the "NewsHour." It's good to see you back on the campaign trail.

    Congratulations.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Thank you very much.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And first question, has this heart issue slowed you down at all?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Not at all.

    I mean, I took some time off. I'm feeling great right now. We had a wonderful rally on Saturday. We're going to be in Iowa in a few days. We're back and running.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's talk — I want to move from your own health to your health care plan, Senator.

    You would eliminate private insurance, require no co-pays or premiums from patients, from people. You would give everybody coverage.

    But the nonpartisan Urban Institute — and we just looked at their — study that they put out last week — is estimating that, over its first decade, your plan would cost $34 trillion, more than total — the total cost of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid combined.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, two responses, Judy.

    First of all, if we do nothing in terms of the health care, I think the estimate is, we will be spending as a nation $50 trillion. We have by far the most expensive health care system in the world. We're spending twice as much per person as the Canadians and most countries in the industrialized world.

    And yet we still have 87 million uninsured or underinsured, 30,000 dying. We pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, and some 500,000 people a year go bankrupt as a result of medical debt.

    We have a dysfunctional bureaucratic system whose main goal is to make huge profits for the insurance companies and the drug companies, and that has got to end.

    Health care is a human right, not a privilege. We don't have to spend twice as much per person as any other major country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Senator, as you know, a lot of people are saying that $34 trillion figure is just a shocking number.

    This reporting we have seen in The Atlantic, Ron Brownstein, a reporter you know, he's saying this would literally require more tax increases than anything the country's seen since World War II.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    You know, Judy, we are taking on the drug companies and the insurance companies.

    We're taking on the Republican establishment. We're taking on the Democratic establishment. We are the only major country on Earth that doesn't guarantee health care to all people.

    What these guys keep forgetting is that we are eliminating — if you're paying, as is not uncommon, $1,500 a month in premiums, $15,000 a year or more, that's gone. If you end up in the hospital with a bill for $50,000, $80,000, that's gone. Co-payments are gone. All out-of-pocket expenses are gone.

    For the average American — you know, what Republicans do is they do these 30-second sound bite and they say, oh, you're going to pay more in taxes.

    They forget to say, you're going to pay less for health care than you currently are. Right now, the average family of four spends $28,000 a year on health care. They will be spending a lot less under Medicare for all.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But just to set the record straight, Senator, this is an analysis by the Urban Institute, nonpartisan group, not by Republicans.

    But what I want to ask you is, you voted for Obama…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    But — but — look, I'm not denying we're going to spend a lot of money.

    But they cannot deny that we're saving people substantial sums of money by eliminating all premiums. I talked to a woman in New Hampshire, $1,700 a month in premiums, huge prescription drug costs. Under our bill, nobody pays more than $200 a year.

    The average American will pay less for health care under Medicare for all.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, to clarify, you voted for the — President Obama's Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're now saying that it is flawed enough or inadequate enough that it should just be thrown out and replaced?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    What I'm saying is, over a four-year period, we should expand the most popular health insurance program in this country, which is Medicare.

    So in my first year, we expand Medicare to cover hearing aids, dental care and eyeglasses. And then we lower the eligibility age from 65, where it is today, down to 55, next year, 45, next year, 35. Then we cover everybody.

    That is the simplest way, the most cost-effective way to guarantee health care to every man, woman and child in this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me ask you about, for lack of a better word, your world view. We have talked to some Democratic strategist who say to us, look, it's either going to be Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren when it comes down to the finalists for the nomination. That's the view out there.

    And you, yourself — you describe yourself as a Democratic socialist. She says she's a capitalist to her bones.

    So, for people who are out there looking at these two world views, what is the difference?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, first of all, Elizabeth is a good friend of mine. We work together in the Senate on so many issues.

    I think that the only way we bring about real change in this country is not within Capitol Hill. What I believe is, we need a political revolution, like the labor movement did in the '30s, like the women's movement, the civil rights movement, the gay movement.

    Millions of people have got to stand up and fight for justice. So what our campaign is about is twofold. Number one, I do believe I'm the strongest candidate to beat the worst president in the history of this country, the most dangerous president, Donald Trump.

    But, second of all, what I know is that no president, not Bernie Sanders or anybody else, can do it alone.

    So, what this campaign is about, it's not just winning the election. It is about building a movement of millions of people who, in fact, will stand up to the greed and corruption of the fossil fuel industry, the drug companies, the insurance companies, the military industrial complex, et cetera.

    That is the only way that I know as to how we can bring about real change. We are the only campaign, I think, who goes going forward in that direction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, a question about foreign policy.

    As you know, President Trump this month pulled out 1,000 U.S. troops from Syria, from Northern Syria. He's been criticized by people in both political parties as selling out the Kurds.

    You in the past have been someone who has been, to put it mildly, skeptical of the value of U.S. troops abroad. What would you do if you were president right now about Syria? Would you put those troops back in?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, two things.

    Judy, you're certainly right. I would say the word skeptical is an understatement. I helped lead the opposition to the war in Iraq. And, tragically, much of what I feared ended up taking place.

    And I will say this, that I think Trump's betrayal of the Kurds, people who lost 10,000 soldiers fighting against ISIS, is one of the worst foreign policy and military decisions ever made by any president in the history of this country. It is outrageous.

    And it's going to haunt us for a long time, because our allies all over the world are going to say, can we really trust the United States of America to stand with us?

    Now, Syria, as you well know, is an enormously complicated issue. You have got a president there who has used chemical weapons against his own people.

    But our job right now is to work with the international community, with our allies to prevent further Russian gains and Iranian gains in that region, bring stability to that area, and do everything we can to create a peaceful situation in terms of what's going on there right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So would you put the troops back into Northern Syria?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Well, you are asking me how I would undo the damage that Trump has inflicted on us in that region.

    It's something I think that, as a nation and as a community, as allies, I — we and our allies are going to have to work together on that issue.

    But what Trump did is unforgivable in terms of his betrayal of the Kurds.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You would have left the troops there?

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Yes, I would have.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Senator…

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    I think, when you deal with troop withdrawal, when you deal with the — trying to end endless wars, was you don't do it based on a phone call with Erdogan of Turkey, and you don't do it through a tweet.

    I mean, these are difficult issues. We want our troops home. I will do everything I can to end our involvement in endless wars. But you don't do it just based on a phone call with the president of Turkey.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Bernie Sanders, joining us today from Vermont, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders:

    Thank you. Good to see you, Judy.

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