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Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is back in the spotlight with a plan to introduce single-payer healthcare.
But this time, it’s a spotlight of his own making. On Tuesday night, Sanders held an online town hall at the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center, which drew over 1.1 million viewers.
Sanders introduced legislation in mid-September that would transition the U.S. to a government-backed healthcare system, much like Canada’s. Also called the Medicare for All Act, Sanders’ bill proposes a system in which patients don’t have to pay for health insurance and don’t pay anything out of pocket at doctors’ visits.
While the bill has the backing of prominent Democratic legislators like Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, it’s faced criticism for failing to outline exactly how the government will shoulder such massive healthcare costs.
Sanders orchestrated Tuesday’s town hall without the assistance of the mainstream media. Sanders introduced the event, saying, “It’s a discussion you’re not likely to see on the mainstream news.” He took a further jab at cable networks, saying, “This event will not be interrupted by commercials for the drug companies.”
Sanders has previously discussed the proposed legislation in millennial-friendly formats like online videos and podcasts. But the scale of the town hall was new, as was the partnerships that helped deliver it.
Sanders worked with Young Turks, Attn and NowThis, all left-leaning media companies with which he has a friendly relationship, to produce the broadcast.
As Dave Weigel points out in the Washington Post, traditional media outlets have been fairly friendly to Sanders—he’s appeared on both CNN and MSNBC plenty of times, and he had more appearances on Sunday shows than any member of the Senate Democratic caucus last year.
Sanders’ panel included experts from around the world, and from the policy, business, and healthcare sectors, including former Medicaid and Medicare administrator Donald Berwick, who worked under President Obama.
Experts from Canada and Norway discussed the relative merits of their systems, which serve populations of 36,807,100 and 5,258,317 respectively. And business owners like Richard Masters, the CEO of a Pennsylvania-based picture frame manufacturer, discussed the business benefits of nationalized healthcare.
Not present on the panels were critics of the legislation. Senate Republicans tried three times last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and generally oppose the idea of a government-backed universal healthcare.
The future of American healthcare has become more muddied since Donald Trump’s inauguration; nearly 9 million people signing up for the ACA despite dramatic cuts to advertising and outreach budgets and in spite of Trump’s executive order rolling back parts of the law.
Sanders’ proposal, despite its limitations, keeps the conversation of universal healthcare on the table in 2018.
Ellen Ioanes is the FOIA reporter at the Daily Dot, where she covers U.S. politics. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, and her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Center for Public Integrity, HuffPost India, and more.