Sen. Michael Bennet to unveil public option health plan aimed at rural areas this week: 'Medicare-X'

Bennet, Sen. Tim Kaine crafted plan
Sen. Michael Bennet to unveil public option health plan aimed at rural areas this week: 'Medicare-X'
Posted at 3:29 PM, Oct 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-16 17:29:42-04

DENVER – U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet will unveil legislation this week to bring a public option to the federal health care system that is seen as a middle point between those pushing for a single-payer system and possibly some Republicans who are on the fence about repealing and replacing the law altogether.

Bennet and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., first unveiled the plan Monday in a Washington Post story, and are expected to further elaborate upon the plan on Tuesday afternoon.

The Democratic senators call the plan “Medicare-X,” and say it’s an “aspirational” goal that would allow any person to buy a Medicare plan. Low-income Americans would receive tax credits to offset the costs.

Bennet and Kaine told The Post that in the first few years of the plan, the option would only be available to people living in counties that have either zero or only one insurance provider operating in that marketplace.

In Colorado, that would apply to at least 14 counties, mostly on the Western Slope, that have only one insurer operating there.

“In rural communities, limited competition is leaving many Coloradans with fewer choices and, in many cases, only one high-cost option,” Bennet said Monday.

Kaine said their plan would be rolled out nationwide by 2023 after the initial rural rollout.

The senators’ public option plan differs from the single-payer, “Medicare For All,” plan that has been touted over the past year by Sen. Bernie Sanders and other high-profile Democrats.

According to The Post, Bennet and Kaine’s plan bridges the gap between those advocates for single-payer and some Democrats who will be up for election in states won by Donald Trump, who might not be so keen to put their seats on the line to advocate for the Sanders plan, which many have balked at over the unknown—and likely pricey—costs that would come with a single-payer plan.

Bennet told The Post that “Medicare-X” is “a plan that begins to fix this problem by giving families and individuals a meaningful and affordable alternative” that will help shore up the rural areas of the country—and of Colorado—that have been hit hardest by increasing premiums and wavering insurers operating under the Affordable Care Act.

Bennet has been pushing for a bipartisan solution to help shore up the insurance marketplaces in the face of Republican efforts to outright repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, which also at one point including a public option that was defeated by a Republican filibuster in 2010, when several Democrats balked at the option.

He is part of the Senate’s health committee, and has backed efforts by its Republican chair, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and ranking Democrat, Washington’s Patty Murray, to stabilize the insurance marketplaces and fix some of the issues both sides have agreed the ACA contains.

The senators told The Post they didn’t expect their measure to become law immediately, but said rather they see it as a “next step” in fixing the national health care system should Democrats win back more seats in 2018 and 2020.

Insurance premiums had already been set to go up by an average of 27 percent on the individual market next year before President Trump announced Thursday night he wouldn’t make cost-sharing reduction subsidy payments that are widely seen as stabilizing the marketplaces.

But after his announcement, the Colorado Division of Insurance announced that premiums would go up by an additional average of 6 percent.

That came a day after the state’s insurance commissioner said Trump’s executive order modifying associated health plans could spell the end of employer-sponsored insurance.

Bennet called Trump's decision "a cruel move that will raise premiums for those who can least afford it.”

His and Kaine’s measure is expected to be unveiled sometime this week. Both of the senators are from states that are considered swing states.