A task force of liberal and progressive healthcare experts advising presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden recommended that the party adopt a platform that includes a public insurance option, a crackdown on hospital mergers, and measures to lower healthcare costs.
The outline comes weeks before the Democratic National Convention is scheduled in Milwaukee next month. Members of the panel, chosen by Biden and his foremost rival during the primaries,Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), were tasked with reconciling differences between moderate and progressive policy agendas.
Providers have been anxiously awaiting details about how they might be paid under a public insurance option as advocated by Biden. The task force proposal said that the public option plan would achieve cost savings by negotiating prices with doctors and hospitals, "just like Medicare."
The public option plan would be open to all Americans regardless of whether they were offered insurance through their employer, and would not have deductibles or co-payments for primary care. The plan would be available without premiums to low-income individuals in states that have not yet expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Low-income individuals who aren't eligible for Medicaid would be auto-enrolled in the public option.
The task force also supported Biden's plan to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60 instead of 65, which some progressives panned as lacking ambition. The task force also proposed finding "financially sustainable" ways to add vision, dental and hearing benefits to Medicare.
One of the task force's recommendations on lowering healthcare costs is pursuing antitrust lawsuits against hospital, insurance and pharmaceutical companies. "We will vigorously use antitrust laws to fight against mega-mergers in the hospital, insurance, and pharmaceutical industries that would raise prices for patients by undermining market competition," the group wrote.
As part of that, the task for wrote that it "will direct federal regulators to review a subset of the mergers and acquisitions that have taken place since President Trump took office."
The advisers' plan to combat COVID-19 included ensuring testing, treatment and vaccines would be free for patients. Boosts to federal Medicaid funds and subsidies for health coverage for laid-off workers would be tied to automatic triggers based on unemployment rates.
The task force didn't specify how it would address balance billing besides saying that Democrats would "outlaw the predatory practice." The policy details have divided powerful stakeholders and stalled progress on Capitol Hill.
On prescription drug pricing, the task force's recommendations were similar to the drug-pricing bill House Democrats passed at the end of 2019. The proposal would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices tied to prices charged internationally, and the negotiated price would be accessible to all payers.
Other aspects of House Democrats' drug-pricing plan are a cap on out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries and a policy that would force drugmakers to pay back Medicare for price hikes that outpace inflation.
The advisory group also advised that healthcare workers should be paid at least $15 per hour, and detailed a laundry list of policies to address racial inequities in healthcare.
The task force members who compiled healthcare recommendations were Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.); former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy; former CMS Administrator Donald Berwick; epidemiologist and progressive activist Abdul El-Sayed; New York University Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service Dean Sherry Glied; Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry; former Obama and Clinton White House adviser Chris Jennings; and House Energy & Commerce Committee member Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.).