St. ALBANS – Dozens of senior citizens packed the Franklin County Senior Center Monday to hear U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., blast GOP plans to repeal Obamacare.
Sanders told constituents about the “monumental struggle” to dissolve Republican health care proposals that would have cut $800 billion from Medicaid. The program, which insures low-income people, pays for opioid addiction treatment and two-thirds of nursing home costs. Sanders said the plan would also have raised premiums for older workers.
The Vermont senator said the Republicans’ failure to repeal Obamacare was a win for Americans.
“The Affordable Care Act, so called Obamacare, did some good things, but clearly problems remain,” Sanders told the crowd.
The senator cited rising costs around the country, high deductibles and copayments, and the “outrageous” cost of prescription drugs. He recalled a bus trip a few years ago with Franklin County residents, that crossed the border into Canada to buy cheaper medicine.
“Yes, we have to improve the Affordable Care Act; where should we be going in the future?” Sanders asked the crowd.
He said the U.S. needs to look to the use of socialized medicine in major countries around the world.
“Every other major country on Earth — Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Scandanavia, what they all have said is that health care is a right of all people, whether you’re rich or poor,” Sanders said.
A Canadian woman stood up from the back of the back room, and Sanders asked her how she liked their health care system.
“It’s not bad,” she replied.
“You’re Canadian, and you’re still alive?” Sanders joked.
He told the senior citizens that no health care system is perfect, but there is definitely the need for improvement in the U.S. About 17 percent of the country’s gross domestic product is spent on health care, or $10,000 per person, Sanders said.
“How do we provide quality care in a cost effective way? That’s a good debate,” he said.
Sanders pointed to Medicare as a simple, cost effective system that could cease many of the current system’s problems.
“I personally believe, and will introduce legislation to this effect, that the long-term solution for the health care crisis in America is to make Medicare available to everyone,” Sanders said, followed by applause. “Medicare for all, not just for people age 65 and older.”
The topic of discussion shifted to Social Security, which Sanders said was not an “immediate crisis.” If the trust fund of $3 trillion expires as scheduled to in 17 years, new funds coming in would still cover 75 percent of benefits, he said.
Sanders called for lifting the $127,000 cap on wages for Social Security taxes, which he claims would extend the life of the safety net program for more than 50 years and even allow for the expansion of benefits for lower income senior citizens.
“There are many people in the state of Vermont, many people all over this country who are trying to survive on $12,000 to $13,000 a year on Social Security,” he said. “I don’t know how they do it.”
Sanders challenged critics of raising taxes on the wealthy. He said the current financial distribution is worse than the period leading up to the Great Depression.
Throughout the Town Hall Meeting, he frequently railed about President Trump’s proposed budget, citing reductions to Meals on Wheels, affordable housing for seniors and the low-income heating assistance program.
Cary Anderson, a Montgomery resident, told Sanders he was concerned about Trump’s plans to cut Social Security disability insurance as part of his budget.
Sanders got off-topic in his response, attacking the president. The Vermont senator said the president lied to the American people in his campaign promises. He said his budget is an “assault on working families, the elderly, the sick and the poor.”
“His budget is so outrageous that it is beyond belief,” he said.
The Town Hall was the senator’s second stop on a day-long visit to Franklin County. Sanders also toured the Northern Tier Center for Health, a federally qualified health center in Richford – one of several statewide that he strongly advocated for.