On Wednesday, Senate Democrats introduced a bill that would allow people to buy into Medicare beginning at age 50 — and already major players in the health care industry are coming out against it.
Around noon, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced “Medicare at 50,” legislation to let people between 50 and 64 years old buy Medicare coverage when they are shopping on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. It took industry lobbying groups only an hour to come out against the proposal.
“We can all agree that every American deserves access to affordable health coverage and high-quality care, but this proposal — whether you call it Medicare for All, Medicare buy-in, single-payer or a public option — moves us toward a one-size-fits-all health care system that is wrong for America,” said Lauren Crawford Shaver, executive director of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, in a statement. Crawford Shaver told ThinkProgress by email that the group also sent a letter about the bill to Capitol Hill.
The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future is a coalition that recently formed to oppose single-payer after Medicare-for-all bills garnered support among key Democrats. About 16 groups are a part of the coalition, including America’s Health Insurance Plans, American Medical Association, Federation of American Hospitals, and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
The organization originally formed last June to lobby against Medicare for All legislation sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But while those bills would make sweeping changes to the health care industry, Stabenow’s bill is more incremental. And the lobbying group’s stance on it makes it clear that major players in the health care industry will fight against even marginal reform that will disrupt the profits they gain under the current system.
In a separate statement, Federation of American Hospitals President and CEO Chip Kahn urged Congress to “sustain and expand affordable private coverage” instead of looking at Medicare buy-ins or single-payer proposals.
Stabenow is pitching a more modest change to health care, especially compared to all the other Democratic proposals in Congress. The bill would create a “Medicare Buy-In Trust Fund,” where paid premiums would go and be used to provide cost-sharing assistance for enrollees who need extra help. This expansion would be separate from the traditional Medicare program — to appease Republicans and the industry, according to Politico. So far, the bill has 17 co-sponsors in the Senate and 20 in the House.
“People age 50 to 64 are the group most likely to see cost increases and lack of affordable coverage” under the current system, Stabenow said during a press conference Wednesday. “The per person out-of-pocket spending for people age 50 to 64 is more than twice that of younger people.”
Why might a Medicare buy-in be a better deal for people than private insurance? Two reasons: Lower prices paid to hospitals and doctors, and lower insurer overhead/profit.
— Larry Levitt (@larry_levitt) February 13, 2019
Stabenow, who is currently not a co-sponsor of Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, views her bill as a palatable approach to give more people health care.
“We all want more affordable health care. What we’re debating is, structurally, what do things look like long term, in terms of Medicare-for-all and how private insurance fits into all that. There’s a lot of debate and discussion that is ongoing. Our proposals could have bipartisan support. This is something that could provide health care coverage, that could work right now,” Stabenow told Vox.
Recent Kaiser Family Foundation polling shows Stabenow’s bill is more popular among Republican voters than Jayapal’s or Sanders’ Medicare-for-All bills.
At the end of the day though, it seems they are all the same to the for-profit health care industry — a major obstacle given its financial clout.
This post has been updated to include further comment from Partnership for America’s Health Care Future.