Democrats announce plan to begin crafting public option insurance bill

Greg Nash

Congressional lawmakers are starting the process of crafting a bill that would create a government-run public option health insurance plan.

On Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued a public request for information to solicit feedback on different aspects of the bill.  

“We believe bold steps are necessary in order to achieve universal coverage and lower health care costs,” the lawmakers wrote. “As we work to draft bold legislation, our goal is to ensure that every American has quality affordable coverage regardless of income, age, race, disability, or zip code.”

Murray and Pallone want feedback from key stakeholder groups, as well as the general public, on some of the most basic, but thorny questions.

For example, they want to know what criteria should be considered in determining prices. They also want to know what the role of states in a federally-administered plan will be, as well as how the public option will interact with other public programs, like Medicaid and Medicare.

President Biden campaigned on creating a public option, touting it as a way to reduce costs without completely ending private insurance, in contrast to “Medicare for All.” The Medicare-like government insurance plan would be sold on ObamaCare’s marketplaces.

“While the Biden Administration has taken a number of steps to expand coverage, including opening a special enrollment period that enabled over one million people to sign up for coverage on the Federal Marketplace alone, tens of millions of American still remain uninsured or underinsured,” Murray and Pallone wrote.

The idea polls well. Seven in 10 Americans support a public health insurance option. But the process faces an uphill battle. Republicans are almost universally opposed, as is the deep-pocketed health care industry. Centrist Democrats may also balk at supporting such a plan.

During the campaign, Biden said his plan would cost $800 billion, a massively daunting price tag without a viable way to pay for it right now. The administration is currently focused on passing the American Families Plan, which includes $200 billion for permanent expanded ObamaCare subsidies, but no public option. 

Congressional Democrats urged Biden to include a plan that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which would bring in $450 billion in savings to pay for coverage expansions. But that was also left out of the families plan.

The upcoming budget also reportedly does not include a public option or the drug pricing plan.

Still, the lawmakers are pressing forward. The process is going to take time, and aides say the goal is to have hearings on legislation before the end of the year. 

Public comments on the information request are due July 31.

Tags Insurance Joe Biden ObamaCare Patty Murray public option

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