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National view: Sanders' plan too late for my pal Ed; hope holds for millions

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during an event to introduce the "Medicare for All Act of 2017" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

I heard the groaning as we walked off the elevator and onto the hospital's seventh floor. Ed was in bed, eyes closed, his skin tan and green. He was in the late stages of prostate cancer that had spread to other organs.

It was August 2013. I was getting ready to attend our 50th grade school reunion when I learned that boyhood pal Ed Lepore was in critical condition. My closest friend Tom Booth picked me up to visit Ed so we both could say goodbye.

The same age as us, Ed fully expected to live another 25 years. He was funny and creative and had a job designing display ads for a small newspaper. He loved drawing and film and music, and playing nickel-ante poker on Friday nights.

But after being laid off from the newspaper, Ed never fully rebounded. He lived in the house inherited from his late parents, buying groceries and Montclair cigarettes with money drawn from unemployment compensation and sporadic part-time gigs. His most recent was as a maintenance worker at a nearby hospital. In his last two years, Ed's lifelong friend Mike Michau and several others helped pay his bills.

For a long time he complained of pain in his hips and groin but never saw a doctor since he could not afford health insurance. By the time an ambulance was called, it was too late.

The Affordable Care Act, which would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2014, was intended to prevent tragedies like Ed's, a way for Americans to acquire insurance and safeguard their health. Though it enabled 18 million more Americans to purchase insurance, many now fear they'll lose it if ACA is repealed, as Republicans in Congress and President Donald Trump have threatened.

To resolve this national headache once and for all, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has proposed a bill to insure all Americans by extending Medicare, which seniors now receive, to cover everyone. Sanders is convinced it will be cheaper, more effective, and more humane than our current system.

Presently, citizens pay out trillions of dollars to health insurance companies, pharmacies, and doctors and hospitals for deductibles and copayments. The paperwork alone adds billions to national medical costs.

Yet, despite all we pay, when someone has a really serious injury or illness in this country, friends and relatives often must still mount a fundraiser to get them through it.

Critics say Sanders' plan is delusional because it is too expensive and amounts to socialism. But the same critics mischaracterize the cost of Sanders' plan, implying there is no money to fund it. They are disingenuous in omitting the fact that it would be paid for with massive sums now spent for private health care, which would, instead, be redirected, via income taxes, to finance universal care.

Here, in a nutshell, is how we can replace our patchwork private health care network with Medicare for all: Currently, the U.S. spends $2.8 trillion on private health care. Switching to a single-payer universal system that Sanders advocates would cost $2.3 trillion, according to a study by economist Gerald Friedman of the University of Massachusetts. Sanders' plan would thus save $500 billion a year in health care costs. And it's easy to see why, since it would bypass countless middlemen, including health insurance corporation tycoons like Michael Neidorff, CEO of Centene, who pocketed a salary and bonuses worth over $22 million in 2016.

And Sanders' plan wouldn't resemble socialism even remotely since Medicare would make payments to doctors, hospitals, clinics, medical suppliers, and pharmacies that already exist in the private sector.

Ed died several weeks after our visit. Before Tom and I said good-bye, I asked Ed if he had a message for any of his former classmates at the reunion. Ed bellowed out an expletive and a harsh suggestion that classmates do something that was anatomically impossible. Pain and anger, understandably, incited his outburst — the same pain and anger that, hopefully, will incite Congress to do what's right, moral, and sensible by passing Sanders' bill for universal health care.

David McGrath is an emeritus English professor at the College of DuPage in Illinois, a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page, and the author of "The Territory." Contact him at profmcgrath2004@yahoo.com.

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