Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing for Janet Yellen of California, President-elect Joe Biden's candidate for Secretary of the Treasury in Washington January 19, 2021.
Anna Moneymaker | Pool | Reuters
Two Senate Democrats have tabled a bill that they hope will spur the process of expanding health care while the party has unified control of Congress and the White House.
Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., And Tim Kaine, D-Va., Reintroduced their Medicare-X Choice Act this week – this time with a president in Joe Biden who is more sympathetic to their cause. The plan would provide a public Medicare option for individuals and small businesses, first in areas with restricted access to coverage and then nationwide by 2025.
Legislation, first proposed in 2017 when Donald Trump was in the White House and Republicans were in control of Capitol Hill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, contains provisions aimed at reducing healthcare costs. This would allow the Secretary for Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices for the Medicare Exchange and Medicare Part D, and expand subsidies and tax credits to allow low- and middle-income Americans to purchase insurance, among other things.
"As we continue to face a devastating pandemic with millions of Americans uninsured or uninsured, we are determined to work with the Biden administration to strengthen the ACA," Bennet said in a statement on Wednesday the bill was presented.
Nonetheless, healthcare reform remains a bleak path among the top priorities of the Democrats when they gained widespread power last month. Biden and most Democrats called for widening public health choices even before the coronavirus caused millions of jobs to be lost and insured by employers last year.
The President and Democratic leaders of Congress made a $ 1.9 trillion pandemic relief package their top priority. They hope to have this bill passed by mid-March. Democrats have tabled an immigration proposal as well, and Biden is hoping to approve a stimulus plan this year.
Where the expansion of health care fits on the agenda is unclear. Republicans who resisted efforts to increase government participation in insurance are likely to block a Democratic Senate insurance proposal.
Democrats must decide how to use their limited attempts at budget voting so that the Senate can pass bills by simple majority. The party is using the fiscal 2021 budget process for the coronavirus relief package. There will be two more shots at reconciliation during the ongoing Congress.
Bennet and Kaine plan to include their proposal in Biden's upcoming stimulus plan, a Kaine spokesman confirmed. Democrats will likely have to pass the package through reconciliation as well.
Biden ran for president to create a "Medicare-like public option" to expand coverage. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the president's current plans for health care reform and see if he had considered the senators' proposal.
Democrats took control of the house in 2019, in part due to efforts by the GOP to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The party has not since banded together to build on Obamacare.
The 2020 democratic primary highlighted the gap. A handful of candidates, led by Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Called for a "Medicare for All" payer system, and others, including Biden, pushed for a public option. Progressives in Congress have called for universal coverage throughout the pandemic as many Americans laid off due to factors beyond their control have also lost health insurance.
Both Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Have spoken out against Medicare for All.
Senate Democrats need to find a plan that will convince all 50 members of their caucus. You could have trouble satisfying the full range of senators in the party, as the GOP did when it tried and failed to overturn Obamacare through reconciliation in 2017.
Biden has taken first steps to alleviate the health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. He signed an executive order that opened a special ACA registration period starting this month.
In December, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that between March and September last year, 2 to 3 million people lost employer-related coverage.
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