Sanders releases universal healthcare plan before Democratic debate

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders released details on Sunday evening about his "Medicare-for-all" universal healthcare funding plan and how he would pay for it.

The plan was released hours before Sanders was to square off in a Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, South Carolina, against Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley.

Clinton's campaign had taken aim at Sanders in recent days, saying the U.S. senator from Vermont had not said how he plans to pay for his healthcare plan and that he needed to before the first party-nominating contest in Iowa on Feb. 1.

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Sanders said that expanding Medicare, a government-run program that insures the elderly, would save $6 trillion over the next 10 years when compared with the current system, which was established by President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Individuals would pay a 2.2 percent "premium" and employers would pay a 6.2 percent payroll tax to fund the healthcare plan. Individuals making $250,000 to $500,000 a year would pay a tax rate of 37 percent and those making more than $10 million would pay a 52 percent tax rate, according to details provided about the plan.

The average annual healthcare costs for a working U.S. family are nearly $5,000 in insurance premiums and another $1,300 on deductibles for care that is not covered, Sanders' campaign said.

Under Sanders' plan, a family of four earning $50,000 would pay $466 to the Medicare program, saving roughly $6,000 per year, the campaign said.

Clinton favors building on the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, and has said Sanders' state-administered plan would jeopardize the healthcare of those with Republican governors. Sanders has said the federal government would intervene in such a scenario.

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Sanders releases universal healthcare plan before Democratic debate
PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 15: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to a crowd gathered at the Phoenix Convention Center during a campaign rally on March 15, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary elections in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, while Missouri and Illinois remain tight races. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 26: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to the media after holding a campaign event with United Steelworkers Local 310L, on January 26, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Sanders continues his quest to become the Democratic presidential nominee.. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - US Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, January 24, 2016, ahead of the Iowa Caucus. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, participates in the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. Hours before Sunday's Democratic debate, the two top Democratic contenders held a warm-up bout of sorts in multiple separate appearances on political talk shows, at a time when the polling gap between the pair has narrowed in early-voting states. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 05: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) shakes hands with supporters after outlining his plan to reform the U.S. financial sector on January 5, 2016 in New York City. Sanders is demanding greater financial oversight and greater government action for banks and individuals that break financial laws. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
LEBANON, NH - NOVEMBER 11: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) marches in the Veterans Day Parade November 11, 2015 in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Sanders goes into the Democrats second debate this weekend still running strong in the polls.(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. While next Tuesday's first Democratic presidential debate will probably lack the name-calling and sharp jabs of the Republican face-offs, there's still potential for strong disagreements between the party's leading contenders. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks about the Workplace Democracy Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US Senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses striking low-wage contract workers from the US Capitol and religious leaders at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, DC, on September 22, 2015 for an interfaith service ahead of the arrival of Pope Francis for a six-day visit to the US. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - SEPTEMBER 19: Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks on stage during the New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention on September 19, 2015 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Five Democratic presidential candidates are all expected to address the crowd inside the Verizon Wireless Arena. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
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"It would be a mistake to really thrust our country into another contentious national debate about how we're going to provide quality, affordable healthcare to everybody," Clinton told CNN's "State of the Union" program on Sunday.

Sanders defended his forthcoming proposal on the same CNN program.

"I believe healthcare is a right for all people; it will be politically difficult to achieve, but I will maintain that vision and fight for it," Sanders said.

Sanders last week tweeted a 1993 photo of himself and Clinton signed by the then-first lady, who was waging her own fight for universal healthcare, which thanked him for his commitment to "real access to healthcare for all Americans."

(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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