Two Democratic Senators from swing states have introduced another bill aimed at providing alternative solutions to the problems plaguing the health insurance markets, this one would offer a Medicare-style public health insurance for people in rural areas with few insurance options.
Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced the Medicare-X Choice Act on Tuesday. The bill would build on the existing insurance market, rather than rebuild the system from the ground up like the Medicare-for-All bill that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has introduced with support from dozens of Senate Democrats.
The Medicare-X bill would allow Americans to buy in to a public option on the Medicare network. Low-income workers would get a tax subsidy to help pay for the plan.
In the first year of implementation under the bill, the new Medicare option would only be available for people living in counties with just one or zero insurance options on the Obamacare exchanges. By 2023, the plan would expand to all counties and by 2024 the public option would be added as another option on the Small Business Health Options Program or (SHOP) marketplace.
Kaine says the bill would lower premiums by creating more competition in the insurance markets.
"Medicare has a very well established network of providers and a reimbursement schedule in every zip code of the United States. They would be able to use that. They don't have to collect profit margins, they don't have to pay big salaries for fancy executives. They don't have to collect state and local taxes. So they will be able to offer a competitively prices insurance option for regular folks and many would find that very attractive," Kaine said in an interview.
The bill attempts to set up a "public option," something that was included in the original draft of the Affordable Care Act by the House but didn't make it in to the final version of the bill due to opposition in the Senate.
The Medicare-X bill comes the same day that Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced he had reached a bipartisan deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to stabilize the Obamacare individual exchanges.
Kaine, who supports the bipartisan deal, said if that bill goes forward and the markets are stabilized for two years then it opens the door to talk about other health care options like Medicare-X going forward.
"It just takes the existing system, which will hopefully stabilize, and by putting one more choice in that system, I think it will serve the needs of patients and consumers very well," Kaine said.
The Medicare-X bill is the latest in a string of bills Senators on both sides of the aisle have proposed to help solve problems in the insurance markets.
Last week, President Trump signed an executive order based on a health care proposal championed by Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul which would allow small businesses and self-employed Americans to form association health groups. The groups would be able to use their collective bargaining power to negotiate prices with insurance companies. Under the executive order, insurers would be able to offer the groups cheaper plans that don't meet all of the coverage requirements laid out in the Affordable Care Act. Those requirements include coverage for things like maternity care and addiction treatment.
It's unclear how the executive order, if implemented, will impact the bipartisan health care bill or the Medicare-X bill down the road.
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