U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is introducing a public option health care fix with a rural focus

“Medicare-X” would let people buy into Medicare plans and provider networks and would be rolled out first in counties with one or no insurance providers.

Michael Bennet on Election Night 2016 at the downtown Denver Westin. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
Michael Bennet on Election Night 2016 at the downtown Denver Westin. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
Michael Bennet on Election Night 2016 at the downtown Denver Westin. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Tim Kaine of Virginia, both Democrats, plan to introduce their own health care proposal this week that aims to provide relief in rural areas, the Washington Post reports.

The proposal doesn’t go as far as the single-payer or “Medicare for All” plan introduced by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont. That plan has been treated as a sort of litmus test by activists on the left. As the Post notes, this new proposal’s backers are swing-state Democrats walking a line between activists on the left and political realities on the ground.

“Medicare-X,” as they’re calling the plan, eventually would work like the “public option” that was part of the Affordable Care Act legislation that passed the House but could not get enough Democratic support to survive a filibuster in the Senate. People could buy into the Medicare provider network in their area, with tax subsidies for lower-income workers.

That this is being treated like a moderate or middle-ground proposal is itself a sign that the party is moving to the left on health care, even if it will leave many activists dissatisfied.

The Bennet-Kaine proposal would keep the architecture of Obamacare while seeking to address one of the ways it hasn’t worked well with the insurance marketplace.

“In its first years of operation, this new Medicare option would be available only in counties that have one or no providers offering insurance on the ACA’s private exchanges,” the Post reports.

“One insurance provider” describes 14 Colorado counties that make up a big chunk of the state. This lack of competition is seen as one reason that premiums and deductibles are so high in those counties. Republican politicians like U.S. Cory Gardner, Bennet’s counterpart, often bring up the plight of rural Coloradans facing high costs and few choices as one of the reasons they can’t just drop the beleaguered effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. At the same time, these same rural counties have benefitted disproportionately from the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

In a tweet, Bennet said the proposal would provide a “meaningful and affordable health care alternative.”

As legislative efforts to repeal the ACA have fallen short, President Donald Trump last week signed an executive order to loosen regulations around the health care plans that are sold on the exchanges. Colorado’s top insurance regulator said those changes would increase costs for many people.

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.