Two prominent congressional Democrats are calling for ideas on a “public option” health insurance plan, a campaign promise by President Joe Biden that faces politically lengthy hurdles
A new public health plan based on Medicare has been a long-standing goal for liberals, who vigorously tried to include it in the Obama-era Affordable Care Act but eventually fell short. Biden and other Democratic candidates revived the idea in the 2020 presidential campaign, envisioning an option that would provide low-cost comprehensive coverage to a wide cross-section of Americans.
But insurers are opposing it, and most of the health care industry is wary. Critics call the public option a step toward a government-run plan for all that could open Democrats to GOP accusations of “socialism” at a time when their hold on their majority in Congress weakens.
The Biden White House has remained largely silent on the public option since taking office, mainly focusing on improving affordability and expanding coverage under the Affordable Care Act. About 10% of Americans remain uninsured.
Murray and Palone’s move to take the idea of a public option “from bumper stickers to practical legislation” is a serious effort, said non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation analyst Larry Levitt.
“Many difficult issues have to be addressed … but by far the biggest is to determine how much doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies get paid,” Leavitt said. “A public option has the potential to drive down prices and make health care more affordable, but the further it goes in that direction, the bigger the blow from the health care industry.”
Pallone and Murray have influential roles in the health care debate. He chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees Medicaid, health insurance and the pharmaceutical industry. She chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. But other key committee leaders will also have to be involved. Much work remains to be done to frame the public option law and to unify the Democrats around it.
Murray and Pallone sought a response to their call for ideas by July 31.