PCCC, Senate Democrats Push for Public Option with New Congressional Resolution and Nationwide Grassroots Coalition Campaign

For Immediate Release

PCCC, Senate Democrats Push for Public Option with New Congressional Resolution and Nationwide Grassroots Coalition Campaign

In Wake Of Clinton Endorsing Public Option and Aetna Reducing Health Care Choices for Millions, Sens. Merkley (D-OR), Schumer (D-NY), Murray (D-WA), Durbin (D-IL), Sanders (I-VT), and 22 Others Elevate Public Option in 2016 Debate and Set Stage For Big Movement In 2017

Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Presente.org, UltraViolet, Working Families Party, MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, and Daily Kos Launch Nationwide Grassroots Campaign at WeWantAPublicOption.com

WASHINGTON - Today, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is partnering with Senate Democrats to introduce and rally around a Senate resolution calling for every American to have the choice of a public health insurance option. A broad progressive coalition will engage millions of Americans this week in support.

This Merkley-Schumer-Murray-Durbin-Sanders resolution is led in the Senate by Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and 22 other original co-sponsors (full list below).

A grassroots coalition led by the PCCC includes Presente.org, UltraViolet, Working Families Party, MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, Daily Kos, and the AFL-CIO. Groups will engage their 14 million plus members nationwide on a petition in support of the resolution at WeWantAPublicOption.com and put in phone calls to Senate offices in support. The PCCC worked behind the scenes with senators and organizations on this strategy to elevate the public option in 2016 and put Democrats on offense when talking about health care.

“We see this as the most significant health care push by Democrats since the passage of Obamacare. This resolution supporting a public option for every American represents a Democratic Party increasingly unified behind a strategy of playing offense on big progressive ideas,” said Stephanie Taylor, Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder. “Aetna’s failed extortion attempt and decision to pull out of 11 states has created new urgency in this moment for making a public option available to every American. With Hillary Clinton actively campaigning on big ideas like a public option, debt-free college, and expanding Social Security benefits, Democrats will earn a mandate in 2016 to govern boldly and progressively in 2017. Bernie Sanders’ partnership with Senate leaders and grassroots groups on this push shows increasing Democratic unity around big progressive ideas.”

Hillary Clinton called for a public option on May 9 and reaffirmed this support in a big economic speech on August 11. This was echoed by President Obama on July 11, an important signal that Democrats were ready to write the next chapter of health care reform after the Affordable Care Act.

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who filed the resolution, said: "The Affordable Care Act has already expanded health coverage to millions who were previously uninsured and given countless Americans greater peace of mind. We should build on this success by driving competition and holding insurance companies accountable with a public, Medicare-like option available to every American."

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a member of Democratic leadership, added: “Rather than refighting old political battles and trying to put insurance companies back in charge, Republicans should join Democrats in expanding choice for consumers by supporting a public health insurance option. We need more competition in the insurance markets, not less, and a public option would help reduce costs and provide consumers with more affordable options when it comes to their health insurance.”

After laying out the case for the public option, the new Senate resolution states: “Resolved, that the Senate supports efforts to build on the Affordable Care Act by ensuring that, in addition to the coverage options provided by private insurers, every American has access to a public health insurance option which, when established, will strengthen competition, improve affordability for families by reducing premiums and increasing choices, and save American taxpayers billions of dollars.”

The PCCC will hold a media call with Sen. Jeff Merkley, Prof. Jacob Hacker (creator of the public option), and others Thursday, 9/15, at 11am ET. To RSVP, email press@boldprogressives.org.

A GBA Strategies poll commissioned by the Progressive Change Institute in January 2015 shows a majority of likely 2016 voters support a public option, 71%-13%, including a majority of Republicans, 62%-22%. Among Hispanic voters, it is popular 64%-23%. Among African American voters, it is popular 86%-6%. Among women voters, it is popular 72%-13%. Among young voters, it is popular 81%-9%.

See statements from progressive grassroots coalition members and more senators below. Also see key Aetna/Clinton/Obama facts below.

Statements from Grassroots Campaign Allies:

Nita Chaudhary, Co-Executive Director, UltraViolet: “Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies have prioritized profits and mergers ahead of patients. When it comes to basic women's health care like birth control, insurers have attempted to force women to pay co-pays or denied their claims altogether. This is unacceptable and would not happen if we had a public option that provides a Medicare-like choice to keep health insurance companies honest.”

Charles Chamberlain, Executive Director, Democracy For America: "If our leaders are serious about ensuring real competition in the health insurance market and driving down our out-of-control healthcare costs, giving every American the option to buy into a public, Medicare-like health insurance program is a no brainer that every single Democrat should support."

Joan McCarter, Senior Political Writer, Daily Kos: "The public option was a good idea in 2009, and it's a great idea today. It's time to expand the access to health insurance promised in the Affordable Care Act and make that 'affordable' part a reality, giving everyone an alternative to high-deductible, high-cost plans."

Matt Nelson, Executive Director, Presente.org: "While Obamacare has helped millions of Americans gain access to healthcare, nearly 10 million Latinx people remain uninsured. Now, Aetna and other corporate insurers are pulling out of states with high Latinx populations -- putting many in our communities at risk of losing the care they need and deserve. We need a public option that guarantees every American an affordable health care choice -- and to truly increase access such a public option should have a Spanish-language website and adequate services. Healthcare is a public good and should never have been entrusted to corporate insurers alone. A public option could save the lives of Latinxs who are still uninsured, and it would help hold corporate insurers responsible for their actions. We applaud senators for proposing this bold resolution and working with grassroots organizations to put the public option back in the national conversation."

Dan Cantor, National Director, Working Families Party: "Congressional Republicans spent six years trying to destroy Obamacare. They failed, and thanks to Obamacare, fewer people than ever are uninsured. But our health insurance industry still needs reform, especially as corporations like Aetna put profit ahead of all else and pull out of the exchanges. It's time to revive a good idea and pass a public option for every American. All Americans need a quality, affordable health plan, whether big insurers want to play ball or not. Senators Sanders, Merkley, Schumer, Durbin and Murray are right to put it back on the table.”

William Samuel, Government Affairs Director, AFL-CIO: “We strongly support this resolution calling for a public health insurance option that will be available to all Americans.  A public plan will change the rules of our healthcare system, lowering costs for working people, employers and government, injecting competition into the health insurance market, and helping keep private insurers honest.”

The petition by the coalition of groups at WeWantAPublicOption.com states: "We want a public option! All Americans should have the option of health insurance like Medicare that competes with private for-profit insurers. Members of Congress and candidates should embrace it in 2016 so we have momentum and can pass it under the next president."

Statements from Co-Sponsors:

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT): "The Affordable Care Act has made great progress in helping millions of people get access to health insurance. But at a time when 29 million people are still uninsured, and 31 million are underinsured, we must continue to make needed health care reforms so that the American people can have health care as a right, not a privilege. Insurance companies have shown they are more concerned with serving their shareholders than their customers. Every American deserves the choice of a public option in health insurance.”

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA): “The passage of the Affordable Care Act was an important step toward making‎ healthcare more affordable and accessible, but it shouldn't be the last step we take. “I believe that there should be a public option in our insurance marketplaces to help reduce premiums, compete with the insurance companies so that consumers are put first, and give working families across the country more affordable choices."

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL): “Ensuring that everybody in America has access to quality affordable healthcare is something that generations of leaders have worked toward. The Affordable Care Act was a massive step toward that goal, but it’s critical that we continue to push until we achieve it. A public option would get us there by increasing competition and accountability in the health insurance market and saving taxpayers billions of dollars.”

Senator Al Franken (D-MN): "Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we've cut the rate of uninsured Minnesotans in half, people no longer have to worry about being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, and people no longer have to worry about being dropped from their coverage when they get sick. We need to protect these and other important gains we've made, but we must do more to help those who are still struggling to afford coverage. I pushed for a public option during ACA negotiations because I strongly believed then -- as I do now -- that a robust public option is one of the best ways to bring down costs, hold insurance companies accountable, and protect health coverage for Minnesotans. As a member of the Senate Health Committee, I'm going to fight to move the public option forward, and I'll keep working ensure that the Affordable Care Act serves the best interests of Minnesota."

Recent Public Option Developments & Background:

On July 5, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini threatened to "leave the public exchange business entirely" if the DOJ opposed Aetna’s merger with Humana. Two weeks later, the DOJ rejected this mega-merger as bad for competition.

Then, on August 15, Aetna announced it would pull out of 11 state exchanges: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. Next year, one-third of ACA healthcare exchanges will be served by a single health insurer and more than half -- 55 percent -- may end up having two or fewer to choose from. Seven entire states are projected to have just one carrier in 2017: Alaska, Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

Hillary Clinton called for a public option on May 9 and reaffirmed this support in a big economic speech on August 11. This was echoed by President Obama on July 11.

The Congressional Budget Office has found that a public health insurance option would save taxpayers $158 billion over 10 years and extend coverage to the nearly 29 million Americans who remain uninsured. Nearly 4 million adults, disproportionately people of color, lack coverage as a result of the decision in 19 states not to expand Medicaid.

In 2010, the PCCC and grassroots allies partnered with Sen. Michael Bennet and others on “The Bennet Letter” calling for passage of the public option through reconciliation -- a process that only requires 51 votes. The letter gained great momentum, and the PCCC aired TV ads showing 51 senators supported the public option.

Polls Show Widespread Support for the Public Option:

A GBA Strategies poll commissioned by the Progressive Change Institute in January 2015 shows a majority of likely 2016 voters support a public option, 71%-13%, including a majority of Republicans, 62%-22%. Among Hispanic voters, it is popular 64%-23%. Among African American voters, it is popular 86%-6%. Among women voters, it is popular 72%-13%. Among young voters, it is popular 81%-9%.

Full List of Resolution Co-Sponsors:

  • Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
  • Charles Schumer (D-NY)
  • Patty Murray (D-WA)
  • Dick Durbin (D-IL)
  • Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  • Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
  • Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Tom Udall (D-NM)
  • Ron Wyden (D-OR)
  • Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Chris Murphy (D-CT)
  • Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
  • Jack Reed (D-RI)
  • Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
  • Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Ed Markey (D-WA)
  • Michael Bennet (D-CO)
  • Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
  • Brian Schatz (D-HI)
  • Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • Gary Peters (D-MI)
  • Al Franken (D-MN)

Full Text of Resolution:

S. Res.

Supporting efforts to increase competition and accountability in the health insurance marketplace, and extend accessible, quality, affordable health care coverage to every American through the choice of a public insurance plan.

In the Senate of the United States, Mr. MERKLEY (for himself, Mr. SCHUMER, Mrs. MURRAY, Mr. DURBIN, Mr. SANDERS, Mrs. STABENOW, Mrs. BOXER, Mrs. FEINSTEIN, Mr. FRANKEN, Mr. WHITEHOUSE, Mr. UDALL, Mr. WYDEN, Mr. BROWN, Mrs. GILLIBRAND, Mr. MURPHY, Mr. MENENDEZ, Mr. REED, Mr. CARDIN, Mr. BLUMENTHAL, Mr. CASEY, Mr. MARKEY, Mrs. SHAHEEN, Mr. BENNET, Mrs. BALDWIN, Mrs. WARREN, Mr. PETERS and Mr. SCHATZ) submitted the following resolution, which was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

RESOLUTION

Purpose: Supporting efforts to increase competition and accountability in the health insurance marketplace, and advance the goal of accessible, quality, affordable health care for everyone in America as a basic human right by offering the choice of a public insurance plan.

Whereas under the Affordable Care Act, 20 million Americans have gained health insurance coverage, including 11 million individuals that have coverage on the public exchanges created by the law;

Whereas the uninsured rate is at its lowest point in history; however, there is still more work to be done to provide access to coverage for Americans that remain uninsured and reduce deductibles and out of pocket costs for the 31 million Americans currently underinsured;

Whereas before the Affordable Care Act millions of individuals with pre-existing conditions were denied health coverage by insurance companies that controlled who received care in the United States;

Whereas profound disparities persist in health outcomes based on race, ethnicity, and geography, and nearly four million adults, disproportionately people of color, lack coverage as a result of the failure of 19 states to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act;

Whereas public insurance options for workers’ compensation insurance have resulted in lower rates for small businesses and more competition in several states;

Whereas giving all Americans the choice of a public, nonprofit health insurance option would lead to increased competition, reduced premiums, cut wasteful spending on administration, marketing, and executive pay, and ensure consumers have the affordable choices they deserve;

Whereas establishing a state-based public health insurance plan is possible today through the use of State Innovation Waivers as created by the Affordable Care Act which allow states to promote unique, creative and innovative approaches to implementing meaningful health care reform including a public option;

Whereas public programs like Medicare often deliver care more cost-effectively by limiting administrative overhead and securing better prices from providers;

Whereas the Congressional Budget Office has found that a public health insurance option would save taxpayers billions of dollars;

Resolved, that the Senate supports efforts—

to build on the Affordable Care Act by ensuring that, in addition to the coverage options provided by private insurers, every American has access to a public health insurance option which, when established, will strengthen competition, improve affordability for families by reducing premiums and increasing choices, and save American taxpayers billions of dollars.

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