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 BennetRules for first Democratic primary debates announced Inslee unveils plan to fight fossil fuel pollution, ban fracking The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck MORE (D-Colo.), who is weighing a run for president and sponsored the bill with Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions MORE (D-Va.), who was Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Top Trump ally says potential Amash presidential bid could be problematic in Michigan Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently 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 DelgadoFreshman Democrats call on McConnell to hold vote on election reform bill Democrats face voters clamoring for impeachment T.I., Charlamagne Tha God advocate for opportunity zones on Capitol Hill MORE (D-N.Y.), John Larson John Barry LarsonWarren introduces universal child care legislation Unchain seniors from chained inflation index A tax increase is simply not the answer to fund Social Security MORE (D-Conn.) and Brian HigginsBrian HigginsOn 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 Has Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? MORE (D-N.Y.)

In all, it's a far cry from legislation offered by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Biden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced 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 BookerBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced Press: Democrats form circular firing squad MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Biden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced 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.”