House Democrats introduce moderate Medicare expansion plan

House Democrats introduce moderate Medicare expansion plan
© Stefani Reynolds

House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a more moderate proposal for expanding health care coverage than "Medicare for All" legislation that has been advocated by a number of the party's 2020 presidential candidates.

The Medicare for America Act, sponsored by Reps. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroOvernight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule On The Money: Senate passes first spending package as shutdown looms | Treasury moves to roll back Obama rules on offshore tax deals | Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm MORE (D-Conn.) and Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyDrag queen attends first public Trump impeachment hearing Progressives ramp up fight against Facebook Veteran Chicago-area Democrat endorses Lipinksi challenger again MORE (D-Ill.), was released a day after Democrats held the first hearing about Medicare for All.

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Unlike Medicare for All, which is favored by many of the Democratic White House candidates, the plan from DeLauro and Schakowsky would not move the entire country into a single government-sponsored health plan.

It would instead preserve employer-based coverage for the millions of Americans who may want to keep their current plans, but employees would also have the option of enrolling in an expanded Medicare plan.

All U.S. residents would be eligible for the expanded Medicare plans, but newborns, the uninsured and anyone receiving coverage through Medicaid, Medicare, ObamaCare or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would automatically be enrolled.

So far, the only 2020 candidate to favor such an approach is former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who has cited the legislation as the best path toward achieving universal coverage. Still, the bill could give other candidates who might be reluctant to support Medicare for All another option.

“It responds to the fact that so many Americans have said, ‘I like my employer-based insurance. I want to keep it. I like the network I’m in. I like the doctor that I see,' ” O’Rourke told The Texas Tribune in March.

As Democratic candidates seek to stake out their positions on health care on the campaign trail in the coming months, the divide between supporters of Medicare for All and Medicare for America may become more stark.

DeLauro and Schakowsky previously introduced the legislation last year, but it had no co-sponsors. The newest version, which was updated to be more expansive and affordable, has 16 total co-sponsors.

Medicare for America plans would have no deductibles, but unlike Medicare for All, the plans would have some income-based premiums. The premiums would be capped at no more than 8 percent of individuals’ or households’ monthly income.

The poorest families and individuals would receive subsidies.

The lawmakers said they don’t want their efforts to be viewed as an attack on the progressives who support Medicare for All; Schakowsky is one of the co-sponsors of the Medicare for All legislation and is a member of the Medicare for All Caucus.

“I don’t think there’s anything adversarial about this,” DeLauro told reporters. “Let’s have this debate. I personally don’t see it as a divide, I see it as a healthy robust debate.”

Medicare for America has the support of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a powerful Democratic think tank closely aligned with the Clintons.

CAP has been advocating for a more moderate approach to health care than Medicare for All, which has recently put its leaders in the crosshairs of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Democrats seize on report of FedEx's Bernie Sanders tax bill to slam Trump's tax plan If we want to save earth, we need to change how we eat MORE (I-Vt.), who is running for president on his own Medicare for All plan.

“I think there are strong reasons to go in this direction,” said CAP President and CEO Neera Tanden, most notably because it would allow people to keep their employer-sponsored health insurance.

“I think we’re all mature enough to recognize these are policy debates, and these are important debates to have,” Tanden said.