Medicare for All: A Quick Guide to the Bernie Sanders Universal Health Care Plan

The bold healthcare proposal by independent Vermont senator Bernie Sanders would create a government-run health care plan intended to achieve universal coverage for all Americans.


The Medicare for All Act would move the U.S. to a single payer system, meaning that the U.S. government acts as the sole primary financier of health care for citizens.

Medicare for All would prevent employers from offering any insurance options that competed with the new Medicare program.

Medicare for All Is a Universal Coverage Plan

Unlike government-run plans in other countries, the Sanders plan intends to cover all needed medical services, including vision and dental, hospital visits, maternity care and other prescription drug benefits.

The plan does not include co-pays and would only charge enrollees for prescription drugs. There are no copays or deductibles.

Critics are asking how Sanders plan to pay for this drastic reimagining of American health care. His last proposal was expected to cost the U.S. almost $1.4 trillion yearly.

The current financing options for this new bill are still undergoing review. These financing options include familiar themes to those who follow the self-described socialist senator, including higher taxes on the wealthy and reigning in corporate corruption.

Taxes would most likely increase for everyone. But employers could theoretically boost salaries, because they’d no longer be paying for employees’ insurance.

Medicare for All Is Not a Public Option

The Sanders plan, which is picking up surprising steam with Democratic lawmakers, is not the public option many Democrats previously supported.

A public option refers to a government program that competes with private insurance plans, rather than using the government as the sole financier of health coverage. Public options provide consumers with a guaranteed government plan, but give them the choice to use this option or go through the private insurance market. Traditional private options would cease to exist under this plan, although private sector supplements would exist.

President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) did not include a public option but set up marketplaces where private insurers were intended to compete with each other while increasing the quality and availability of private insurance to Americans.

Democrats Are Slowly Embracing Socialized Medicine

The ACA operates within the U.S. private insurance system. The "Medicare for All" program would essentially replace that system by rendering it unnecessary, a move Democrats were traditionally hesitant to embrace.

Moving the U.S. to single-payer through the Medicare for All Act is a long-shot, and the plan is sure to undergo major revisions if it moves forward.

But growing Democratic support for this plan signals a new era of discourse that finds one of America's major parties openly discussing radical shifts in how the U.S. could approach health care for the future.

(Editorial note: This article was revised with updated content on October 9.)

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