In what's being described as a "2016 debate changer," a broad coalition of progressive lawmakers and organizations is launching on Thursday a new push for a national public health insurance option.
With a congressional resolution backed by a grassroots campaign, "this is the most significant healthcare push by Democrats since the passage of Obamacare," said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), which is leading a coalition of groups that will engage millions of Americans this week in support of the effort.
The resolution is being led in the Senate by Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), as well as 22 other original co-sponsors. It lays out a clear case for a public option—citing persistent health disparities and 31 million underinsured under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as the proven cost-effectiveness of public programs like Medicare—and 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.
A 2015 poll (pdf) showed overwhelming support among 2016 likely voters for such a program, and both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama have recently come out in favor of a Medicare-like public plan. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, too, recently advocated for Congress "introducing a public option in places with limited competition."
What's more, campaigners said Thursday, Aetna's recent decision to pull out of 11 state exchanges means that in 2017, one-third of ACA healthcare exchanges will be served by a single health insurer and more than half may end up having two or fewer to choose from. This erasure of competition "has created new urgency in this moment for making a public option available to every American," as Taylor put it.
"Insurance companies have shown they are more concerned with serving their shareholders than their customers," Sanders added in a statement. "Every American deserves the choice of a public option in health insurance."
And Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy For America, declared: "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."
"All Americans should have the option of health insurance like Medicare that competes with private for-profit insurers," the petition reads. "Members of Congress and candidates should embrace it in 2016 so we have momentum and can pass it under the next president."