This week, Senator Bernie Sanders has been firing on all cylinders as hecontinues his advocacy for real healthcare reform that controls costswhile extending quality care to every American. Monday he held a townmeeting in Burlington to discuss what we can learn from other countries thathave developed cost effective universal health care systems. On Tuesdayhe met with President Obama along with other members of the Finance and Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committees responsible for drafting the Senate’s healthcare legislation. Yesterday he arranged a meeting between single-payer advocates and Finance Chair Max Baucus–Baucus had previously not only denied them a seat at the table for his hearings but even had some arrested.

I had the opportunity to speak with Senator Sanders this evening as hetook a brief break from ongoing discussions within the HELP Committee,and prior to his making the case for single-payer on The Ed Show (a caseSchultz has featured on his five-night-a-week MSNBC program and in town halls across the country). This is what the Senator had to say:

Q: Tell me about the purpose of the meeting with Senator Baucus today?

Senator Sanders: The truth of the matter is–and I say this notideologically but just from an objective analysis of the health caresituation–the only way you’re gonna provide comprehensive, universal,and cost-effective healthcare to every man, woman, and child in thiscountry is through a single-payer system. That’s just a simple reality. And the reason for that is that to pay for universal comprehensivehealthcare you have to deal with the enormous amount of waste that iscurrently within the private health insurance industry. The estimate isabout $400 billion a year in administrative costs, in billing, inprofits, in CEO compensation, in advertising–all of those thingswhich have nothing to do with the provision of healthcare…

In California, my understanding is that 1 out of every 3 dollars ofpremiums goes to administration. If we are gonna address the very rapidand dangerous increase in healthcare [costs], then the only way to do that is through a single-payer system which wrings out all of the waste that private health insurance creates.

So, you gotta put that issue out on the table and that’s what we’retrying to do.

The meeting with Senator Baucus is an effort to allow all of the peoplein this country–including 15,000 physicians, the largest nursesorganizations–to at the very least begin to get a hearing [on] whatis the most sensible proposal out there. I’m going to be talking toSenator Dodd–who for a while has taken over the leadership of theHELP Committee–about the possibility of a hearing within the HELPCommittee. I don’t know if that would happen but I’d like to see that.

I just think it’s very important for the American people to understandwhy our system is the most expensive, the most wasteful, the mostbureaucratic in the entire industrialized world. The only way you cando that is through the analysis that single-payer provides.

Q: What can you tell me about your meeting with President Obama?

Senator Sanders: The President wants a very aggressive timetable, I’m not sure that thatcan be met. His hope is that legislation is passed in the Senate beforethe August break. And that will require the Finance Committee to passsomething, the HELP Committee to pass something, and then the twocommittees to work out their differences, and then to bring it to thefloor and pass that. President Obama said he supports a public planoption and he [reiterated that] today in a letter to Senator Kennedy and Senator Baucus.

Q: What can progressives do to make sure there is truly a robust publicplan option?

Senator Sanders: As a matter of fact, I’ve just come from–and will be going to in a few minutes–back to the HELP Committee where we are just discussing this issue. There are five different options–from strong to weak.This is not a mark-up, this is just an informal discussion among themembers. But that is just what we are discussing right now. TheAmerican people have got to weigh in on this debate–get involved in this struggle–to say at the very least we want a strong public plan option. We can[also] make good progress on primary healthcare, expanding communityhealth centers , training more healthcare professionals and implementing stronger quality control.

Q: Your bill that would allow five states to administer a single-payersystem (S.898) –is that an incubator to move towards a national single-payersystem?

Senator Sanders: That’s right. And we’re gonna push for that. We are absolutely gonna push for that. That came up at the meeting with Senator Baucus and it’s something that I want in the bill.