April 19, 2018

Dem bill would open Medicare to people of all ages

Daily Briefing

    Sens. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Wednesday introduced a bill that would allow individuals and employers to purchase Medicare coverage.

    Medicare 101: Access our cheat sheets for Parts A through D

    The bill is the latest in a slew of recent government insurance program buy-in proposals from Democratic lawmakers and the liberal Center for American Progress. According to Vox, Murphy and Merkley's Medicare bill appears to be an indicator that Democrats are interested in health reforms to address problems that the Affordable Care Act did not remedy.

    Bill details

    The latest bill, called the Choose Medicare Act, would create a new Medicare plan, called Part E, that would be available to individuals of all ages and to U.S. employers, according to a summary of the bill.

    The new Medicare Part E plans would cover the same benefits as traditional Medicare and other services, such as maternity and pediatric care, CQ Health reports. The proposal envisions selling Medicare Part E plans on every state and federal exchange and giving employers the option of offering Medicare Part E coverage to their employees instead of private health insurance.

    The bill also would expand access to federal subsidies to help individuals purchase coverage on the ACA's exchanges, Vox reports. For instance, under current law federal subsidies are available to those with annual incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty line (FPL). But Murphy and Merkley's bill would raise that upper threshold to 600% FPL. The bill also would overhaul how those subsidies are calculated by tying them to the price of more comprehensive "gold" plans, instead of the silver-level coverage that is currently tied to subsidies.

    An additional eight Senate Democrats are co-sponsoring the bill:

    • Tammy Baldwin (Wis.);
    • Richard Blumenthal (Conn.);
    • Cory Booker (N.J.);
    • Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.).
    • Kamala Harris (Calif.);
    • Martin Heinrich (N.M.);
    • Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.);
    • Brian Schatz (Hawaii); and
    • Tom Udall (N.M.).

    Comments

    Murphy said, "There are some Democrats that have proposed legislation mandating that all Americans move to a Medicare plan, under the theory that Medicare is the best option available for Americans." He continued, "Our bill essentially puts this theory to the test and lets consumers and businesses decide whether they want to migrate to a Medicare plan or whether they want to stay on private insurance."

    Murphy and Merkley said that, if passed, the bill would increase competition in the exchange market, because Medicare Part E plans would be sold on the exchange market along with private health coverage. As such, they said premium costs for exchange plans would decline.

    However, Murphy acknowledged that the bill is not likely to become law in the near future, even if Democrats become the majority in one or both chambers of Congress in 2019 (CQ Health, 4/18 [subscription required]; Kliff, Vox, 4/18; Sullivan, The Hill, 4/18; Bill summary, 4/18; Murphy release, 4/18).

    Medicare 101: Cheat sheets for Parts A through D

    Through the years Medicare has grown more complicated, including private supplemental insurance and prescription drug coverage. Download our cheat sheets to learn how each of the four parts of Medicare works, and why they’re so important for provider organizations:

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