Democratic leaders are keeping their distance from Bernie Sanders' radical new healthcare plan

Bernie sandersJason Merritt/Getty ImagesSenator Bernie Sanders

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont unveiled his “Medicare-for-all” healthcare plan Wednesday, alongside more than a dozen Democratic colleagues, including several potential 2020 presidential hopefuls.

Absent from Sanders’ policy proposal that has been long-relegated to the fringe of the Democratic Party were members of the Democratic leadership, many of whom have kept their distance from the healthcare overhaul.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declined to endorse Sanders’ plan during a press conference on Tuesday, noting that “there are are many different bills out there,” including “many good ones.”

“We want to move the issue forward,” Schumer said. “We’re looking at all of these.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told The Washington Post in an interview Tuesday that she does not think support for single-payer healthcare should be a “litmus test” in the Democratic Party. She added that the Democrats’ goal is to “have as many people as possible, everybody, covered, and I think that’s something that we all embrace.”

Pelosi also said defending the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was the primary goal because “none of these things, whether it’s Bernie’s or others, can really prevail unless we protect the Affordable Care Act.”

For what it would take to get the leadership on board with the plan, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said time will likely bring them around.

“I think this is not a matter of if we do this, it’s a matter of when,” he said. “This is a broken system, way overly expensive, it’s just sapping the strength and the money from our economy.”

Sen. Kamala Harris of California, an original cosponsor of the bill, told Business Insider that while she has not yet spoken to the Senate Democratic leadership about supporting the plan, most of her colleagues “are very supportive as a general matter.”

“And it’s gonna be about talking to folks and showing them all of the merit and it’s gonna be about whatever their constituencies are demanding of them, that’s gonna be a function of that,” Harris added.

One concern that makes certain lawmakers hesitant to embrace the single-payer plan is that it could be economically unfeasible, which Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said could be alleviated by implanting a public option for individuals and business.

“There’s many steps we can take in the direction of Medicare that cost nothing,” Merkley said. “You put Medicare on the exchanges as a public option that creates competition.”

Sanders left the event without taking questions from reporters.

Under Sanders’ new plan, almost all aspects of healthcare would theoretically be covered by the government. Americans not eligible for Medicare under the current system would be gradually brought into the program over a four-year period and all minors would immediately be given universal Medicare cards. In the plan, private insurers would become obsolete with the exception of certain elective procedures.

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