UNC FactCheck: Are Bernie Sanders' claims about healthcare correct?

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Paige Masten
, UNC Media Hub
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, several of his surrogates and an audience of 2,528 gathered near UNC-Chapel Hill’s Bell Tower for a campaign rally last week, with a significant portion of the stump speech focused on the issue for which voters know him best: universal healthcare.

He began by highlighting the shortcomings of the U.S. healthcare system.

“The United States of America is the only major country on Earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people as a human right,” Sanders said.

However, the veracity of Sanders’ claim is dependent on how he defines “major country” and “guarantee.” In 2015, Sanders made the same claim and PolitiFact rated it as “half-true.”

Sanders added: “In America, we are spending twice as much per person on healthcare as the people in Canada, Europe or any other industrialized country.”

This seems on point, as, according to an analysis from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Americans spend more than twice as much on healthcare per person as their peers in developed nations.

Meanwhile, Sanders said, as many as 87 million people are uninsured or underinsured.

“You all know what that means?” Sanders asked the audience. “High deductibles, high co-payments, high out-of-pocket expenses.”

A recent survey from The Commonwealth Fund found that this is, in fact, true. In 2018, an estimated 87 million U.S. adults were inadequately insured, the survey found.

Continuing, Sanders made the claim that 30,000 Americans died last year because they could not afford to go to a doctor.

According to PolitiFact, it is true that thousands of people die as a result of cost barriers to healthcare. But the specific number of deaths, while difficult to estimate, is most likely fewer than 30,000.

Sanders further blasted the healthcare industry, who he claims earned “$100 billion in pocket money” last year.

Sanders made the same claim at July’s Democratic debate. But according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the healthcare industry made $23.4 billion in net earnings in 2018. It’s possible that Sanders was referring to drug companies, whose combined profits totaled upwards of $100 billion in 2018.

“The function of healthcare is to provide quality care to all, not make billions of dollars in profits,” Sanders said. “We are going to pass a Medicare for All single-payer program.”

This story was produced by UNC FactCheck, a new component of the Media and Journalism School’s Media Hub Initiative.