Dem single-payer fight set to shift to battle over Medicare ‘buy-in’

Dem single-payer fight set to shift to battle over Medicare ‘buy-in’
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Momentum is building among House Democrats for a more moderate alternative to single-payer health-care legislation.

The legislation, which would allow people aged 50 to 65 to buy Medicare, is being championed by Rep. Brian HigginsBrian HigginsHas Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Democratic senators unveil 'Medicare X' bill to expand coverage MORE (D-N.Y.), who supported House Minority Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments MORE (D-Calif.) for Speaker in exchange for a commitment to work on his bill when Democrats take control of the House early next year.

“We agreed in principle to get this done,” Higgins told The Hill.

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Higgins told The Hill that Pelosi’s support of his buy-in legislation was the key to switching his position on her Speakership.

Higgins said he wasn’t promised a vote on the legislation, just a commitment that he will be the point person of the effort to shepherd it through the legislative process.

“It’s got to be scored, go through committee. It’s got to do a lot of things,” Higgins said. “We fell short of a vote in committee [with Republicans in control]. So now that changes.”

Under Higgins’s plan, anyone aged 50 to 64 who buys insurance through the health-care exchanges would be eligible to buy in to Medicare.

It would also apply to people with employer-sponsored insurance and allow employers to pay Medicare premiums on their behalf — a feature that could expand the number of older working individuals who select the buy-in option.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHouse Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally It's about the delegates, stupid MORE offered a similar proposal when she ran for president in 2016. Former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Former Senate Dem leader: 'No way' impeachment trial for Trump would lead to conviction MORE also proposed expanding Medicare in 1998 by allowing certain workers between the ages of 55 and 65 to buy Medicare. Those workers had to either lack insurance or be retired or laid-off.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneTop Trump health official warned against controversial ObamaCare changes in private memo Top Trump health official warned against controversial ObamaCare changes in private memo First major 'Medicare for All' hearing sharpens attacks on both sides MORE (D-N.J.), the likely chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee next year, said he thinks a Medicare buy-in should be on the agenda next year.

“We certainly would consider a Medicare buy-in,” Pallone told The Hill. “I think we’ve got to wait and see what the caucus wants to do and what the committee wants to do, but I’ll just say it’s certainly something we should consider.”

“Medicare for all” supporters are energized after sweeping Democratic victories in the midterm elections, however, and see the Medicare buy-in bill as too small a step.

“We are dead set against any buy-in or public option,” said Kenneth Zinn, political director of National Nurses United. “Our goal as RNs is to ensure a universal system of guaranteed health care for everyone and this does not accomplish that. I would urge Congress to reject it.”

Zinn said private insurance shouldn’t have any role in health coverage moving forward. A single-payer plan covers everyone, regardless of income, and eliminates copays, deductibles and premiums. It also eliminates private insurance.

Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalCentrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage push Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage push Overnight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses MORE (D-Wash.), who is co-chair of the Medicare for All Caucus in the House, told The Hill said she has spoken with Higgins and expressed her concerns about his bill.

“We have to be careful not to perpetuate the system we have,” Jayapal said.  “I would prefer to have a reduction of the age of Medicare so that more people could qualify but not a buy-in, because that continues the problems that we have right now.”

Jayapal added that lowering the eligibility age “would be an appropriate way to go where we’re taking a step forward towards a system that will ultimately cover everybody.”

Still, she said with Democrats in control of the House, there will be more of an “exchange of ideas” than there has been previously.  

Higgins said a Medicare buy-in is quicker and cheaper to implement than single-payer. It can also be a bridge to Medicare for all, he said.

“I support the exploration of Medicare for all, but you have to be well balanced and practical about this. Establishing a brand-new health insurance program is going to take time,” Higgins said.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said he supports giving everyone the option to buy in to Medicare, and thinks the legislation from Higgins will start a conversation. He wants a "buy-in for all" to be the “new floor” in the debate.

“It’s ironic that it took a conservative Democrat to jumpstart the momentum for Medicare buy-in but now that it’s there, there will be a huge push for Medicare option for all,” Green said. 

“It’s jumpstarting the concept of a buy-in in 2019 and will lead to momentum of a buy-in for every family and small business.”