One of the most trusted progressive voices in the senate said Monday evening the effort to improve health care in America will not be over once the Democratic bill passes. In fact, he declared, it's just the beginning.

"I believe that at the end of the day, what we need is a Medicare-for-all, single payer system," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said on MSNBC's The Ed Show. "This is far from that. But that fight continues. So, this is a step forward. And let us not underestimate the good in this bill, let's continue to fight."

After a year of extensive debates, the resulting legislation has drawn the ire of many progressives, who are upset that it does not expand public alternatives for consumers. But according to Sanders, that isn't enough of a reason to strike it down.

"The answer is pass this bill and make it better the day after," Sanders said, citing the Congressional Budget Office's conclusion that it will cover millions who are uninsured and ban insurers from denying care to sick people and individuals with pre-existing illnesses.

"Let's not ignore the reality that 31 million more Americans are going to get health insurance," he said.

A self-described democratic socialist and single-payer champion, Sanders nevertheless declared resolutely that "doing nothing is not an option" and suggested the present bill's passage would make the nation more likely, not less, to move toward that goal.

"This country cannot accept 45,000 people a year dying because they don't get to a doctor on time," he said, adding that "the cost of premiums are going to double" within the next decade, referring to an Urban Institute study cited by host Ed Schultz earlier in the segment.

"What middle class family can sustain that?" Sanders asked.

A study by the consumer advocacy organization U.S. Public Interest Research Group found last January that if reform fails, insurance premiums could conceivable double as soon as 2016, HealthDay News noted. A report by the Commonwealth Fund in August said that under the status quo, health care costs for average Americans are likely double by 2020.

The senator from Vermont last week criticized the White House for spending months trying to fruitlessly court Republican votes, but said President Obama has "final got th[e] message" that it isn't going to happen.

The GOP remains resolutely opposed to the bill, while progressive activist groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee continue to stress the importance of a public option.

Democrats are just short of the votes they need to push the health care bill past the finish line, party leaders say. Obama's top aides predicted Sunday that health care reform will pass within the week.

This video is from MSNBC's The Ed Show, broadcast March 15, 2010.

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