US Senate News:
Source: United States Senator for Vermont Patrick Leahy
. . . . Proposal Cosponsored by 11 Senators Would Help Millions of Americans Access Affordable Coverage and Drastically Reduce Health Care Costs
Washington, D.C. –– Today, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reintroduced their legislation, the Medicare-X Choice Act, which would create a public option by expanding on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicare. The Medicare Exchange (Medicare-X) plan would offer families, individuals, and small businesses low-cost health insurance, decrease the number of uninsured Americans, control the cost of health care, and increase competition in the health insurance market.
The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has underscored the need to expand access to high-quality and affordable coverage. Medicare-X would help achieve universal health care by making coverage more affordable and accessible. The bill updates previously introduced versions including granting the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to reimburse up to 150 percent Medicare rates for hospitals and physicians located in rural areas.
The legislation was introduced today with 10 other cosponsors, including U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Gary Peters (D-Mich.).
“The Affordable Care Act dramatically improved health care coverage and affordability,” said Bennet. “As we continue to face a devastating pandemic where millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured, we are committed to working with the Biden Administration to strengthen the ACA. Medicare-X is the best way to cover everyone, reduce health costs, and improve the quality of health insurance for all Americans, including those who’ve historically suffered the most from poor access to quality coverage and care. We have a responsibility to create the best health care system possible and achieve universal coverage. We can do that through Medicare-X.”
“With massive job losses, exacerbated health disparities, and increasing health care costs, the COVID-19 pandemic has further reinforced the urgent need for us to expand access to quality, affordable care,” said Kaine. “At a time when health care is a top concern for so many people, we must pass this legislation to offer more Americans, particularly in rural communities, more quality, affordable health care choices and help people get the care they need.”
“It is more important than ever that every American has access to affordable health insurance,” said Durbin. “I am proud to support the introduction of Medicare-X Choice Act, which would lower prescription drug costs and provide a low-cost public option health insurance plan in the Affordable Care Act marketplace, starting in rural communities and areas with few options. As we face the coronavirus pandemic, this bill can give Illinoisans the peace of mind that quality, affordable coverage brings.”
“All Illinoisans—and all Americans—deserve high-quality, affordable health coverage, regardless of their income or their zip code,” said Duckworth. “I’m happy to join my colleagues in introducing the Medicare-X Choice Act to support President Biden’s efforts to expand coverage and build on the progress made by the Affordable Care Act in increasing access and affordability of healthcare.”
“Greater choice and competition within the health care market will help ensure that all Americans will have access to the quality, affordable health care that they need, particularly in the middle of a pandemic. A public option – which describes who designs and manages the plan and not who provides the medical services – would be the easiest way to provide an affordable, quality choice plan for those not otherwise covered by private insurers and help keep private insurers in check by serving as a low-cost competitor,” said Cardin.
“Because of the Affordable Care Act, so many in Michigan have the coverage that they need, but there’s more we can be doing,” said Stabenow. “Our legislation lowers costs and gives families more choices, especially in our small towns and rural communities.”
“Georgians, especially those with already limited health care options due to location or cost, deserve equal access to reliable, affordable health care coverage. Medicare-X provides a new, low-cost option for health insurance that is easily accessible for those who need it,” said Warnock. “This once-in-a-century pandemic has exposed long-standing inequities in our health system and creating a public health insurance option is a critical step in closing that gap. Hardworking families should never have to choose between getting much-needed medical care or a lifesaving prescription and putting food on the table.”
“In Colorado, we used the Affordable Care Act to expand health insurance to half a million people. But too many families still struggle to find affordable health care, and the pandemic has only exacerbated that challenge. A public option would be transformative for lowering costs, giving Coloradans more choices, and putting quality care within reach for everyone. Let’s get it done,” said Hickenlooper.
“COVID-19 has created a devastating crisis in health care and has laid bare serious inequities in rural insurance coverage,” said Smith. “As we continue to deal with the pandemic, we need to help Americans living in small towns, rural areas and elsewhere get low-cost, high-quality insurance coverage. This measure I’m helping introduce would establish a public option on the individual and small business exchanges. I’ll keep working with my colleagues to move it forward.”
“The deadly pandemic has shone light on just how dangerous disparities in access to health care are for millions of families in America. The time is now for immediate action to lower health care costs and increase access to coverage, and that’s why strengthening the ACA through a public option is critical,” said Shaheen. “Medicare-X is a common-sense step to reduce costs and give Granite Staters more options for their health coverage. I’ll continue to support good-faith efforts to ensure families get the quality, affordable care they need.”
The ACA expanded health insurance coverage to an additional 20 million Americans, established critical protections for patients with pre-existing conditions, and standardized essential health benefits for all qualified health plans. However, many Americans still face high health care costs and limited options for affordable health insurance. Currently, 10 percent of counties still have only a single insurer offering health insurance in 2021.
The bill would work within the Medicare framework to establish a Medicare Exchange public option plan in every county in America for individuals and small businesses, providing an additional, affordable option in all communities. It would also build on the ACA and expand premium and cost-sharing support to make all exchange options even more affordable for the uninsured.
Under Medicare-X, the public option would initially be available on the individual exchange in areas where there is a shortage of insurers or higher health care costs due to less competition—including rural communities in Colorado and Virginia. By 2025, the Medicare Exchange plan would expand to every ZIP code in the country and be added as another option on the Small Business Health Options Program Marketplace.
Medicare-X would expand Medicare’s network of doctors and providers and guarantee the essential health benefits established in the ACA, such as maternity care and mental health services. Medicare Exchange plans would expand benefits and provide all primary care services without cost-sharing requirements for plan holders.
Additionally, it would ensure access to affordable prescription drugs by empowering the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices for Medicare Exchange plans and the Medicare Part D program.