The ongoing uncertainty in Congress surrounding health care legislation, and the intentional sabotage of the Affordable Care Act, is destabilizing the insurance marketplace, driving up costs, discouraging new enrollments, and making Americans worried about the future of their health care.
To be clear, any of the existing efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act would be disastrous. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the repeal plan passed by the House of Representatives, 14 million people would lose their insurance in the first year of implementation, and 24 million fewer would be insured by 2026.
In the short term, Congress should shore up the Affordable Care Act with bipartisan, commonsense improvements, such as a reinsurance program to stabilize the market for high-risk policyholders, legislation to make cost-sharing reductions permanent, and government permission to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. But in the longer term, the time is right to think about ways to make access to health care truly universal and cover those who are still left behind. By far the simplest solution is Medicare For All.
In the short term, Congress should shore up the Affordable Care Act with bipartisan, commonsense improvements. But in the longer term, by far the simplest solution is Medicare for All.
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Medicare is one of our most trusted and popular government programs. For more than 50 years, Americans have trusted Medicare to provide care to the elderly and disabled, funded by the payroll taxes of American workers. Numerous studies conducted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid (CMS), and respected independent analysts show that Medicare spending rises at a much slower rate than private insurance – a remarkable achievement given the higher risk pool within the program. There is no question that Medicare is a more efficient system than the private insurance market.
Medicare’s durable and popular framework could be modified and expanded to cover more people, and form the basis for a true universal medical insurance program.
In Congress, this idea is more popular than ever: In every Congress since 2003, Rep. John Conyers has introduced H.R.676, the Medicare for All Act. When he first introduced the bill, he got 38 co-sponsors. This year, I joined 114 of my fellow Democratic members – more than half the Democratic caucus – to lend my support. It is an idea whose time is coming.
Opponents may point to the difficulties California has had in trying to implement its own state-based universal health care system. A stand-alone plan in California would somehow have to incorporate existing federal health insurance programs – an impossible task given the political realities of the Trump Administration.
But a federal Medicare for All program would face no such obstacles: It would simply use the existing Medicare infrastructure and expand it to cover everyone. Seniors on Medicare would find that their health insurance is made more secure by bringing a statistically healthier population into the Medicare risk pool and by having greater buy-in for Medicare from younger voters.
Right now, Democrats in Congress need to be laser-focused on preserving and securing the Affordable Care Act. We are universally opposed to Republican repeal efforts that would gut Medicaid, make prescription drug costs more expensive in Medicare, and kick tens of millions of people off their insurance just so the wealthy can get a massive tax cut. We don’t want to go back to the bad old days when Americans could be denied health insurance for having a pre-existing condition.
But we also need to look beyond the immediate horizon and envision how we can make lives better for more Americans. Medicare for all would do this. Seniors know the peace of mind that comes from having the guarantee of health insurance. Imagine if all Americans could say the same.
John Garamendi, a Walnut Grove Democrat, represents the 3rd Congressional District. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.