Healthcare

Democratic senators unveil ‘Medicare X’ bill to expand coverage

Greg Nash

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 Bennet (D-Colo.), who is weighing a run for president and sponsored the bill with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who was Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016.

{mosads}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 Delgado (D-N.Y.), John Larson (D-Conn.) and Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.)

In all, it’s a far cry from legislation offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (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 Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (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.”

Tags Antonio Delgado Bernie Sanders Brian Higgins Cory Booker Hillary Clinton John Larson Michael Bennet Tim Kaine

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