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It's Time: Broad Progressive Coalition Launches New Push for Public Option

With a congressional resolution and a grassroots campaign, 'this as the most significant healthcare push by Democrats since the passage of Obamacare'

"All Americans should have the option of health insurance like Medicare that competes with private for-profit insurers." (Photo: AP/CQ Roll Call)

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."

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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."

Or, as the "We Want A Public Option!" petition states: "Aetna attacked the public. We're attacking back."

"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."

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