WASHINGTON – Sen. Michael Bennet will introduce a bill to add a public option to the Affordable Care Act exchanges.
After the first year, the Medicare-X Choice Act would give everyone the opportunity to buy into the Medicare network and allow the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for those enrolled.
“This is my attempt to respond to specific challenges I’ve heard from Coloradans,” Bennet said in a media call on Tuesday. “Too many Coloradans have had to make choices about health care that no one else in the industrialized world has had to make.”
The bill, which would give options for those who are not elderly, would have a yearlong transition period in which it would be offered only in rural counties that have one or no plans to choose from under the existing health care exchanges.
After the first year, it would be introduced nationwide and anyone could buy into the public option.
The new public options would include all of the essential health benefits that are currently required by the Affordable Care Act, and Bennet said there were also provisions to disincentivize the “fee for service” structure of medical billing.
The announcement coincides with a deal Tuesday between Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., that would continue cost-sharing reductions through 2019. The reductions, which are government subsidies to states to help offset costs for insurers, were cut by President Donald Trump last week.
Bennet said he was “enormously gratified” they were able to reach an agreement, and that his bill would address separate and deeper issues in the structure of Obamacare.
The introduction of a public option would give rural residents more choices when it comes to finding an insurer and would supplement only the plans already available, Bennet said.
Centura Health, the network that includes Mercy Regional Medical Center, applauded the effort in a statement: “We are always interested in legislation that will improve access to care and reduce pain points for providers and consumers.”
The Colorado Hospital Association also commended Bennet’s efforts, but raised concerns.
“The question, however, is whether or not this plan will further magnify the cost shift that already places increased burden on privately insured patients,” the association wrote in an email.
The bill, co-authored by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va, faces an uphill battle to gain the bipartisan support needed to make it out of the Senate.
Samuel Northrop is a reporting intern for The Durango Herald in Washington, D.C., and a student at American University.