By Peter Hirschfeld
VPR (Vermont Public Radio), March 25, 2017
Less than 24 hours after the disintegration of a Republican effort to repeal and replace the federal Affordable Care Act, Sen. Bernie Sanders told constituents at a town hall meeting in Hardwick Saturday that he’ll introduce a single-payer health care bill in Congress “within a couple of weeks.”
The announcement drew thunderous applause from the approximately 1,000 people in the Hazen Union High School gymnasium, where Sanders shared a stage with Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch.
Sanders told the audience that the defeat of the Republican health care bill demonstrates widespread dissatisfaction among Americans with GOP health care policies. And he says he thinks his “Medicare for all” bill will have strong appeal even among the red-state voters that put President Donald Trump in the White House.
Sanders has introduced similar legislation before.
“It is a common sense proposal, and I think once the American people understand it, we can go forward with it,” Sanders said after the town hall meeting.
Welch said that once Sanders’ bill is introduced in the Senate, he’ll introduce the same bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. Welch told the audience that passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 was an important step forward.
After the town hall, Welch said he’s realistic about the legislation’s prospects.
“Well, you know, it’s a goal. In this Congress, we won’t pass it,” Welch said. “But I think we have to do keep the goal out there, because we need in this country, like any industrialized country, a health care system that’s affordable, accessible and universal.”
In the wake of the GOP’s failure to repeal the ACA, Welch says he also plans to “reach out to [his] Republican colleagues with specific proposals about some of the things we can do to fix some of the issues in the Affordable Care Act.”
Welch says the individual market, which affects about 6 percent of Americans, “is a problem right now,” and that he’s ready to work across the aisle to find ways to fix it.
Welch says he’s also eager to work with Trump to allow the federal government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies, a move Welch says could save $167 billion annually.
“So my view is that those of us on the Democratic side who did support the ACA have to reach out to our Republican colleagues and offer to work with them on improvements,” Welch said.