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Sanders says he’ll detail costs of his universal health-care plan before voting begins

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a recent campaign event at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Morgan/Reuters)

HANOVER, N.H. -- Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Thursday renewed a pledge to detail how he would pay for his health-care plan prior to the Iowa caucuses, seeking to blunt one of several lines of attack coming from rival Hillary Clinton in recent days.

The Vermont senator, appearing at a news conference here, told reporters that his single-payer “Medicare-for-all” plan would be very closely modeled on a bill that he introduced in 2013 -- but probably less costly due to changes ushered in recently by the Affordable Care Act.

As polls in the Democratic contest have tightened, the Clinton campaign has criticized Sanders both for middle-class tax increases included in his 2013 bill and for not sharing his updated plan sooner.

“The truth is, we already have a plan,” Sanders told reporters Thursday night, referring to his 2013 legislation.

[As Democrats trade more jabs, Sanders debuts TV ad saying he’s superior on Wall Street reform]

That bill included an additional 2.2 percent income tax for most Americans -- and considerably more for the rich -- and added a 6.7 percent payroll tax for all employers. Economists say payroll taxes are usually passed on to workers.

Sanders said that under his plan the typical family would save thousands of dollars a year in out-of-pocket health-care costs because they would no longer pay private insurance premiums, deductibles or co-payments. Any increase in taxes would be more than offset by those savings, he said.

“What this plan does, of course, is end private insurance payments for the American people,” Sanders said.

He spoke at a news conference called to highlight a new endorsement from Paul G. Kirk Jr., a former U.S. senator from Massachusetts and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

[Under fire from Clinton on health care, Sanders chides those trying to ‘demagogue’ the issue]

Kirk later joined Sanders at a boisterous campaign rally in a packed auditorium on the campus of Dartmouth College. At the outset, Sanders told the overflow crowd that Clinton’s nomination “may not be quite so inevitable” as pundits suggested just a few months ago.

At the news conference, Sanders also sought to rebut claims by the Clinton camp that he had launched a negative television ad on Thursday.

The spot, titled "Two Visions," doesn’t mention Clinton by name, but the contrast Sanders is seeking to draw is readily apparent.

“There are two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street,” Sanders says in the ad, which his campaign said will be broadcast in Iowa and New Hampshire. “One says it's okay to take millions from big banks and then tell them what to do. My plan: Break up the big banks, close the tax loopholes and make them pay their fair share.”

During a conference call earlier Thursday, Clinton advisers accused Sanders of breaking a pledge not to air negative TV ads during his presidential bid.

“This is not a negative ad,” Sanders told reporters Thursday night. “Everybody knows that there are two positions. … It is clear which side I am on.”

Sanders said that his spot was certainly no more negative than one Clinton debuted earlier in the week that he said suggested he was not on the same side of the gun-control issue as President Obama.