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 Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report MORE (D-Colo.), who is weighing a run for president and sponsored the bill with Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineA lesson of the Trump, Tlaib, Omar, Netanyahu affair Warren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Almost three-quarters say minimum age to buy tobacco should be 21: Gallup MORE (D-Va.), who was Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Hickenlooper announces Senate bid 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 DelgadoMueller report fades from political conversation Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress The 11 House Dems from Trump districts who support assault weapons ban MORE (D-N.Y.), John Larson John Barry LarsonTrump's latest plan to undermine Social Security The Social Security 2100 Act is critical for millennials and small business owners Warren introduces universal child care legislation 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 Sanders2020 candidates have the chance to embrace smarter education policies Bernie Sanders Adviser talks criminal justice reform proposal, 'Medicare for All' plan Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona 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 BookerOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race 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.”