Democrats back on offense on health care

Last Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont grabbed the most headlines since his shockingly strong challenge to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary race. Sanders, officially an independent, was again making a pitch that was a staple of his presidential campaign rallies — “Medicare for all.”

This time, however, he had along 15 co-sponsoring Democrats for the introduction of his “Medicare for All Act of 2017,” among them Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Only one of those co-sponsors endorsed Sanders in the presidential election, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon. Most of the rest, including Blumenthal, backed Clinton, who had rejected Medicare for all as a “theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass."

Times do change.

As proposals go, Medicare for all is far more aspirational than practical. While they control the House and Senate, Republicans, who consider the Affordable Care Act a huge government overreach (even though it is built largely on the private insurance system) will have nothing do with Sanders’ call for nationalized health care insurance.

And even if Democrats had more votes, there are reasons that Clinton concluded it “would never, ever come to pass.” Americans generally don’t like the level of taxes they are paying now, and making the federal government the insurer of all would require a major tax increase.

Hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry, who would both get squeezed by price controls in a Medicare-for-all system, would launch a full lobby assault. And the insurance industry is not going to quietly watch a huge percentage of its revenue source transferred to the public sector.

Add in fears about the bureaucracy that Medicare for all would require and the disruption of the employer-sponsored health insurance plans that workers are generally happy with, and you have more reasons why the so-called “single-payer” approach is unlikely to become an American reality.

Yet, as noted, the aspirational aspect works. “Medicare for All” is a made-for-TV campaign platform for the 2018 election cycle. As simple to say and understand as “repeal and replace.” It could potentially swing the health care debate back in favor of the Democrats, even if doesn’t produce Medicare for all.

Which leads to an announcement last Tuesday that received far less media attention than the Sanders’ splash.

Rep. Joe Courtney, the Democrat who represents the 2nd District that encompasses the eastern half of our state, joined Rep. John B. Larson, the Democrat from Connecticut’s 1st District, and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., to formally introduce the “Medicare Buy-In Health Care Stabilization Act.” They had announced their plans earlier this summer.

It would provide Americans ages 50-64 the option to buy-in to Medicare and avoid the increase in premiums that people in that age group face in the private sector. Working Americans in that age group who receive employer-sponsored coverage could also buy into the program, with their employers continuing to contribute to their premiums pre-tax, “a win-win for those employers and employees,” said the bill’s three primary sponsors.

Shifting these older workers, with their generally higher medical bills, into Medicare would have the added benefit of lowering the premium costs that private insurers assess younger policyholders.

The Courtney-Larson-Higgins bill has 35 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

With his proposal, the pragmatic Courtney is aiming for the achievable, if not in this Republican-controlled Congress, than perhaps after 2018 if Democrats can gain control of either the House or Senate, perhaps riding on that “Medicare for All” bandwagon.

Courtney recognizes what the public wants.

“When it comes to the current health care debate, Americans have been telling Congress loud and clear what they want: constructive solutions that can get bipartisan support,” he said in introducing the bill. “The ACA was never intended to be the final word on health care and Republicans are right that some parts of that bill are now broken … We should be working together rather than attempting to butcher the bill without putting a new plan in place.”

The great health care debate continues. And after playing defense since the enactment of Obamacare, it appears the Democrats are back on offense.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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