'BernieCare' Can Save ObamaCare

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The Hill

'BernieCare' Can Save ObamaCare

'The BernieCare option has always been a frontal assault against the greed of certain insurance companies and the lobbying industrial complex that has dominated healthcare policy for far too long.' (Image: DonkeyHotey/flickr/cc - with overlay)

The decision by Aetna to withdraw from many ObamaCare exchanges was a predictable outrage that opens to the door not to the demise of ObamaCare, but the dramatic improvement of ObamaCare led by a grand battle by Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and progressives to enact the public option and move toward a Medicare-for-all healthcare system.

Let's coin the phrase "BernieCare" to describe the kind of healthcare system that progressives believe, with some reason, would be the kind of program that voters prefer. Sanders has long been a champion of single-payer healthcare — which I personally support — but for obvious political reasons in a lobbyist-dominated Washington, single payer is highly unlikely to happen soon.

Sanders, who is more of a highly skilled political and legislative tactician than pundits understand, has responded to the Aetna withdrawal from many healthcare exchanges by publicly announcing he will wage an all-out campaign to enact the public option.

The Sanders response to Aetna is perfectly timed and politically powerful. The public option, which should have been enacted with the original ObamaCare program, would guarantee that every healthcare exchange will have at least one highly affordable choice for consumers to accept.

The result of including a public option on healthcare exchanges would be that one of two things would happen. Either other insurers would remain on the exchanges to compete for the consumer's dollar, which would create a downward pressure on insurance premiums that benefits consumers, or Americans would enroll in the public option en masse, which would accelerate the move toward a true single-payer system.

Lies of omission

I was a vehement supporter of the public option during the original ObamaCare debate. It was a tragedy of epic proportion that the public option was not included in the final ObamaCare law, despite the fact that President Obama supported it and Democrats then had large majorities in the House and Senate.

That omission occurred, despite strong public support for the public option, because of the power of insurance lobbyists in Washington, the obstruction of Republicans in Congress and the reluctance of a small number of more conservative Democratic senators to defy the insurance lobby.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Sanders and the Democratic Party are now united in support of the public option. This was one of the more important developments at the time of the Democratic National Convention when the Clinton and Sanders camps unified behind a series of platform positions that included long-held progressive policies and ideas.

The BernieCare option has always been a frontal assault against the greed of certain insurance companies and the lobbying industrial complex that has dominated healthcare policy for far too long. The BernieCare strategy was dramatized during his campaign for president, where he advocated a full single-payer system, and is now advancing again with the decision of Aetna to abandon most of the ObamaCare exchanges.

This strategy has taken various forms in recent years. The idea of a public option on the exchanges has always garnered strong public support. The idea of a Medicare-for-all system builds on the enormous public support for the Medicare program. And I would emphasize again today, as I have throughout the presidential campaign, that I believe the reason that Sanders dominated Republican nominee Donald Trump in match-up polls throughout the presidential campaign is that he embodies the kind of progressive populist reformation that voters prefer over the status quo or the conservative alternative.

Many analysts believe that the Aetna decision to withdraw from most ObamaCare exchanges was a retaliation against the Obama Justice Department taking a strong position on egregious examples of mergers and acquisitions in the insurance industry, including a proposed but rejected merger sought by Aetna. I fully support the Justice Department's policy, deplore the Aetna withdrawals, and expect the Aetna move to backfire.

Among the many reasons that Sanders is supporting Clinton for president, and turning his attention to electing other Democrats to regain control of the Senate and potentially the House of Representatives, is that he is poised to become one of the most powerful and important senators if Democrats regain control.

If Democrats regain control of the Senate, Sanders will have fascinating options as to which Senate committee he will chair.

He can take his revolution to the federal budget as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Even more interesting is that Sanders could have the opportunity to take his revolution to even more immediate heights as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, if the only Democrat above him in seniority, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chooses to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee instead.

Republicans and conservatives are rejoicing at the decision of Aetna to abandon most ObamaCare exchanges, but does the GOP really want to become the party of higher insurance premiums, working as the handmaiden of insurance industry lobbyists?

The stage is set for Sanders to campaign throughout the nation and in Congress for his BernieCare alternative, joined by Clinton and Democratic leaders, making the Democrats the party of lower insurance premiums, the great change agent battling lobbyists and influence peddlers who want to stick it to American families and consumers.

It will be ironic — and wonderful for liberals — if BernieCare saves ObamaCare and the big winners are American consumers.

Brent Budowsky

Brent Budowsky is a columnist for The Hill.

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