Bernie Sanders turned a press statement on the coronavirus on Thursday into a concerted pitch for Medicare for All.
“In the last few days, we have seen the crisis of the coronavirus continue to grow exponentially here in the United States and around the world, and we have witnessed a global economic meltdown which will impact millions of workers in our own country,” Sanders said during remarks in Burlington, Vermont. “In terms of potential deaths and in terms of the economic impact on our economy, the crisis we face from the coronavirus is on the scale of a major war and we must act accordingly.”
Sanders spent the majority of his speech calling on Americans to unite with their neighbors and for the government to protect people from price-gouging for medical treatment. And he pushed further for Medicare for All, the signature issue that has propelled his presidential campaigns, saying that the United States is at a “severe disadvantage” when it comes to treating people for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, because the country doesn’t provide health care to all citizens.
“When you are uninsured or under-insured, you hesitate about getting the medical care you need because you cannot afford to get that medical care,” Sanders said. “The result is that millions of our people cannot afford to go to a doctor let alone pay for a coronavirus test. While we work to pass a Medicare for All single-payer system, the United States government today must make it clear that in the midst of this emergency, everyone in our country, regardless of income or where they live, must be able to get all of the health care they need without cost.”
Sanders’ comments in Vermont followed a speech on the coronavirus from Joe Biden, who is leading Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Biden’s remarks marked the beginnings of a shift in focus to a general election race against Trump, with the release of a lengthy plan to combat the virus. Biden’s plan, while not Medicare for All, is still extensive, including calling for free coronavirus tests and no out-of-pocket expenses for related care.
Sanders made similar proposals, saying that vaccinations for coronavirus should be provided free of charge once they are developed. “We cannot live in a nation where, if you have the money, you get the treatment you need to survive, but if you're working-class or poor, you get to the end of the line. That would be morally unacceptable.”
Sanders also called for a national moratorium on evictions, home foreclosures, and utility shutoffs while people who have contracted the coronavirus take time away from work or who have been fired from companies during the economic downturn. That position has gained steam among progressive activists in the weeks since the virus has spread across the country.
The Miami-Dade County Police Department issued a notice that it would not be assisting homeowners in evictions until further notice, and the city of San Jose, California approved a 30-day moratorium on evictions for residents who can document that they’ve faced significant financial hardship because of the coronavirus. In New York City, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted that he agreed with a call to halt evictions during the pandemic.