SAN FRANCISCO — Sen. Bernie Sanders received a hero’s welcome from a group of California nurses as he urged support for his Medicare-for-All effort and denounced a Republican health care bill on Friday afternoon.

Sanders spoke just hours after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., announced his opposition to the latest Republican attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, likely scuttling the bill. Sanders thanked McCain for his stance, calling the legislation — sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy — “even worse” than previous GOP health bills.

“Our struggle on this legislation is not over,” the Vermont independent and 2016 presidential candidate said in his speech to the California Nurses Association. “We’re going to defeat this disastrous Graham-Cassidy bill, and then we go on to pass Medicare-for-All.”

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Sanders introduced his Medicare-for-All bill in the Senate earlier this month and has recruited 16 co-sponsors for the bill, including Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California. While its chances of success in a Republican-controlled Congress are almost nonexistent, Sanders promised a wholehearted fight for the bill.

“Medicare for senior citizens has worked, and we want Medicare to work for every man, woman and child in this country,” he said. “After decades of talk, now is the time to get it done.”

Sanders predicted that drug and insurance companies would spend millions of dollars to oppose his efforts.

Some Democrats had accused Sanders of focusing too heavily on his single-payer bill at a time when the Graham-Cassidy legislation appeared to be close to passing. But he argued that it was important to keep up the Medicare-for-All fight and defend Obamacare at the same time.

“We must be honest and acknowledge that with all the gains of the Affordable Care Act, it has not gone far enough,” he said. “Maintaining the status quo is just not good enough.”

About 2,000 people crowded into Yerba Buena Gardens to see Sanders’ speech, with the contingent of nurses making up a sea of red T-shirts. Some were literally feeling the burn on a uncharacteristically hot and sunny San Francisco day.

Nurses passed around iPhone selfies of themselves with Sanders and shared horror stories of how cost-cutting insurance companies shafted their patients. Zenisa Quebral, an intensive care unit nurse in Stockton, said she’s had patients get sicker after insurance companies required her to do cheaper procedures when more expensive ones were necessary.

“We see firsthand why we need Medicare-for-All,” Quebral said.

The event felt like a campaign rally — complete with the same Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack from Sanders’ presidential primary ads — and many attendees said they hoped to see him run for president again in 2020. “Run, Bernie, run!” they chanted as he came onstage.

Jo Ann Lingle, 73, who came from Chicago for the convention, said she thought Sanders should make another try for the presidency.

“He’s a champion,” she said. “We see so much of our health care dollars wasted in profits, and he wants to use it for people.”

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(c)2017 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

Visit the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.eastbaytimes.com

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