Bills by U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) that would create a single-payer health care system in the United States are supported by most Congressional Black Caucus members.

Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, along with Rep. Bernie Sanders have bills in Congress that call for a single-payer health care system. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

While the Republican-driven debate focuses on dismantling the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, most members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) support the program initiated by President Barack Obama, but some would like to take it one step further.

On Sept. 17, Conyers re-introduced “The Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act” that would expand that Medicare program for the elderly to all Americans. The Conyers bill would be paid for by a payroll tax on employers and employees, a financial transaction tax, and higher taxes on the wealthy.

“I have introduced the bill in each Congress since 2003 and I will continue to do so until the bill is passed,” Conyers, the member with the most seniority in the House, said. “Many Americans are frustrated with high out-of-pocket costs, skyrocketing premiums and many other serious problems that are part and parcel of a health care system dependent on private health insurance plans.”

Conyers supports Obamacare but says that the single-payer system is much better. “It is my opinion and the belief of many leading health care practitioners and experts that establishing a non-profit universal single-payer system would be the best way to effectively contain health care costs and provide quality health care for all Americans,” he said.

A 2013 Kaiser Family Foundation study revealed that Blacks are significantly more likely than Whites to be uninsured because of the limited access to employer-sponsored insurance and a lack of income to pay for private health insurance out of their own pocket.

The Kaiser study stated that Medicaid, the health care program for the poor, filled some gaps for Blacks but still left 21 percent of all Blacks uninsured as opposed to 13 percent for Whites. Sanders stated during the 2016 campaign that under the single-payer system, every resident regardless of race, ethnicity, or income would have access to quality health care.
The Conyers bill is supported by the NAACP and 37 of 49 CBC members including D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Anthony Brown (D-Md.), and Bobby Scott (D-Va.), and overall 77 House members.

On Sept. 13, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced “The Medicare for All Act of 2017” that is essentially the same bill that Conyers introduced. “Today, we begin the long and difficult struggle to end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care to all its people,” Sanders, who ran for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, said at the time. “At a time when millions of Americans do not have access to affordable health care, the Republicans, funded by the Koch brothers, are trying to take away health care from up to 32 million more. We have a better idea: guarantee health care to all people as a right, not a privilege, through a Medicare for all, single-payer health care program.” The Koch brothers are billionaire businessmen and owners of America Koch Industries, the second largest privately run business in the U.S.

The bill establishes a national health insurance program called the Universal Medicare Program. Under the program, every U.S. resident will receive health insurance through an expanded Medicare program with improved and comprehensive benefits.

Sanders made it clear that he supports Obamacare but said it has left 28 million uninsured for a variety of reasons such as the relatively high cost of insurance for those who are poor.

Seventeen senators support Sanders’s bill, including Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California.

Harris said that the single-payer system is just what is needed. “Healthcare should not be thought of as a partisan issue – it’s a nonpartisan issue,” she said. “Cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure affect folks around the country regardless of whether they are in a red state or a blue state, regardless of their income and regardless of their status. We should not differentiate in the way that we do public health policy and we should understand that everyone should receive the health care they need regardless of where they live, their income, or their zip code.

“That is what this bill is about and I’m proud to co-sponsor the Medicare for All Act. It is about saying that health care is a right for all, not a privilege for a few.”

Harris notes that the Sanders bill should be embraced by employers. “Under this bill, Americans will benefit from the freedom and security that comes with finally separating health insurance from employment,” she said. “As in the case in every other major country, employers would be free to focus on running their businesses rather than spending an enormous amount of time, energy and money trying to provide health insurance to their employees.”