“Medicare for all” may command much of the attention (and the breathless pearl-clutching from the right), but Democratic ideas range from full single-payer systems to broad expansions of Medicaid, and plans to let Medicare negotiate drug costs.
My contribution to the discussion is the Choose Medicare Act, a bill I introduced with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), that will let people of all ages buy a Medicare health plan if they want to, and let any business buy in to Medicare for its employees.
The Choose Medicare Act would offer a new Medicare plan on all state and federal exchanges, and people could use their existing ACA subsidies to help pay for it. Employers could also choose to select this Medicare plan instead of private insurance to cover their employees. Choose Medicare builds on the existing network and low administrative costs of the program, and it would help save even more money by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
Having Medicare as an option will force private insurance companies to be more competitive, bringing down costs for everyone. It also tests the idea that Medicare is the right benefit for everyone by allowing consumers and businesses to choose for themselves.
I believe that, given the choice between a private insurance plan and Medicare, the majority of people will choose Medicare. A recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll confirms it: three-quarters of Americans supported a Medicare buy-in, including 6 out of 10 Republicans.
Candidates running in 2018 are embracing Medicare buy-in plans as an on-ramp to universal coverage—and not just in safe blue states or districts. Candidates promoting Medicare buy-in plans can be found in Massachusetts and California, but also in swing districts in places like Texas and South Carolina.
There's no denying that if I were designing a healthcare system from scratch, I'd build a “Medicare for all” type of system. But opening up Medicare to anyone who wants to buy in to it will help us build on the system we have and brings us one huge step closer to affordable coverage for everyone.