Democratic senators unveil 'Medicare X' bill to expand coverage

Two Democratic senators rolled out a proposal Tuesday that would allow anyone to buy Medicare plans, a proposal they say is a more realistic than proposals like Medicare for all that would eliminate private insurance companies and reshape the American health care system.

The introduction of “Medicare X” comes as the Democratic Party debates its next steps on health care, with the left wing of the caucus pushing for a single-payer "Medicare for all" system and more moderate members supporting efforts to strengthen the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“I just think this is a much more practical way of trying to achieve the objective of universal coverage, and over time, a reduction in our expenditures on health care, then practically any other proposal that’s been made since the ACA was passed,” said Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape The Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? Hickenlooper expected to end presidential bid on Thursday MORE (D-Colo.), who is weighing a run for president and sponsored the bill with Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineWarren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Almost three-quarters say minimum age to buy tobacco should be 21: Gallup Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador MORE (D-Va.), who was Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAre Democrats turning Trump-like? The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE’s running mate in 2016.

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The bill would leave the existing health care system intact, but would create a public option for Medicare, allowing individuals of any age to purchase plans that would include access to the program's network of health care providers and ObamaCare’s range of benefits, like maternity care and mental health services. Currently, only adults 65 and older can participate in Medicare.

It would also expand access to tax credits that help people buy ObamaCare coverage and would allow those credits to be used for Medicare X plans. Under those changes, individuals would pay no more than 13 percent of their income toward their insurance premiums for a standard health plan. The bill also increases the size of the tax credits for those with lower incomes. A House version was introduced Monday by Reps. Antonio DelgadoAntonio Ramon DelgadoAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress The 11 House Dems from Trump districts who support assault weapons ban House Dems, Senate GOP build money edge to protect majorities MORE (D-N.Y.), John Larson John Barry LarsonThe Social Security 2100 Act is critical for millennials and small business owners Warren introduces universal child care legislation Unchain seniors from chained inflation index MORE (D-Conn.) and Brian HigginsBrian HigginsHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment On The Money: Sanders unveils plan to wipe .6T in student debt | How Sanders plan plays in rivalry with Warren | Treasury watchdog to probe delay of Harriet Tubman bills | Trump says Fed 'blew it' on rate decision Democrats give Trump trade chief high marks MORE (D-N.Y.)

In all, it's a far cry from legislation offered by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersVolatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties GOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' British Bookmaker: Warren has replaced Biden as Democratic primary favorite MORE (I-Vt.). Sanders, who is running for president, would create a government-run, single-payer system that would largely do away with private insurance companies. 

“We preserve everything about the existing system. And we just put one additional element into it,” Kaine said.

A Medicare public option was included in several drafts of ObamaCare, but was stripped out due to political opposition from moderates like former Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)

Now it’s a relatively popular idea among Democrats, with several versions of a Medicare buy-in being introduced in recent years.

Bennet noted that his plan pre-dates Medicare for all proposals, and he thinks it can eventually get support from Republicans.

Medicare X is also supported by Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Steve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination We need a climate plan for agriculture MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Volatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties Conservative commentator rips Shapiro over criticism of people with multiple jobs MORE (D-Calif.), two other presidential candidates who are also co-sponsors of Sanders’s bill.

“I see this as an attempt, a good-faith attempt, to try to address the gaps we have in our current health care system,” Bennet said.

“It is an attempt to move us toward universal coverage. Everybody in America should be insured. I think every single Democrat sees that view and I hope over time Republicans in Washington will share that view as all.”