Amid the hype over “Medicare for all,” Democrats’ likely health-care path in the new Congress is more akin to “Medicare for more” — allowing people 50 and older to buy into the government’s health insurance program for seniors.
Key Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday that would do just that, saying it can be implemented quickly and is sorely needed, as Americans aged 50 to 64 face pricey medical issues and get “knocked around” by private insurers.
Some are even putting off an early retirement because they must cling to job-based insurance until they qualify for Medicare, said Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who filed the bill with fellow Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.
“So many people say they’re holding their breath until age 65,” she said. “I want people to be able to stop holding their breath.”
Democrats’ prized health-care law, the Affordable Care Act, extended coverage to roughly 20 million Americans, yet nearly 30 million remain uninsured.
A debate over how to reach them has been raging for years, with the party’s left-wing ante known as “Medicare for all,” pushed by Sen. Bernard Sanders and several 2020 Democratic hopefuls. It would cover everyone by instituting nationwide government-sponsored coverage, but its defenders are being tripped up by questions about the fate of private insurance, which many Americans hold and like.
That makes incremental plans such as Mrs. Stabenow’s more palatable to some Democrats.
Under the plan, consumers aged 50 to 64 could shop for Medicare coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, allowing them to compare the program’s offerings to plans already available to them under President Barack Obama’s program.
It would be a version of the public option, which many Democrats had wanted as part of the original Obamacare framework.
Consumers would buy the plans at full cost, so the legislation is scored as budget-neutral instead of increasing deficits — although customers eligible for Obamacare subsidies may use them to defray their Medicare buy-in premium.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat eyeing a presidential bid, has said it’s a practical stepping stone to more ambitious efforts.
“This will help millions of people, strengthen the Affordable Care Act and get us closer to our goal of making sure everyone has health-care coverage,” he said.
Recent polling suggests Medicare-at-50 is a runaway hit.
Nearly eight in 10 people think it’s a good idea, including almost seven in 10 Republicans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Medicare is the best ‘public option’ that already exists,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, New York Democrat, who is pushing for such buy-in plans to be added to Obamacare.
Senate GOP leaders are likely to balk, however — government-oriented attempts to plug holes in Obamacare are a nonstarter for the party.
The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future — a coalition formed to combat Democrats’ floated changes — urged Congress to reject government-based options.
“A debate over government-run care will bitterly divide Americans at a time when they want bipartisan consensus on health care,” the group wrote. “Americans deserve better.”
The Kaiser poll found strong support for the full range of Democratic plans, but said that can be dented when told nationwide plans could replace private insurance and increase their taxes.
“Single payer is a huge minefield for Democrats given that polling shows that support melts when voters are told they would lose their current private coverage,” said Robert Laszewski, a health policy consultant in Alexandria, Virginia. “That said, polls also say that most voters want government to have a role in providing a better health-care safety net.”
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