WASHINGTON ― Progressive senators and liberal activist groups plan a renewed effort to achieve what they couldn’t when the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010: Create a “public option” health plan in Obamacare that consumers can choose instead of private insurance.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are among the leaders of the effort, which also includes three members of the Senate Democratic leadership: Dick Durbin (Ill.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Patty Murray (Wash.).
The senators will introduce a resolution Thursday calling for the creation of a public option, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee will spearhead a grassroots campaign to promote the cause to other senators ― and to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
The revival of the public option comes after Clinton and President Barack Obama both endorsed it as a progressive priority this summer, more than six years after liberal lawmakers left it out of the Affordable Care Act after a lengthy debate.
Moreover, bad news about Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges ― where premiums appear set to rise significantly for at least some customers and fewer insurers will be offering plans for next year ― has invigorated interest among Democrats and other supporters of the health care law in expanding health coverage and reducing costs.
We must continue to make needed health care reforms so that the American people can have health care as a right, not a privilege. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
“The Affordable Care Act has already expanded health coverage to millions who were previously uninsured and given countless Americans greater peace of mind,” Merkley said in a written statement provided by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “We should build on this success by driving competition and holding insurance companies accountable with a public, Medicare-like option available to every American.”
As he did during his unsuccessful White House bid, Sanders acknowledged the Affordable Care Act’s accomplishments ― namely the historic reduction in the number of uninsured Americans ― and described the public option as the next step toward universal coverage.
“The Affordable Care Act has made great progress in helping millions of people get access to health insurance. But at a time when 29 million people are still uninsured, and 31 million are underinsured, we must continue to make needed health care reforms so that the American people can have health care as a right, not a privilege,” Sanders said in a written statement provided by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee also shared a portion of the resolution, which Merkley will introduce Thursday, with The Huffington Post in advance of the announcement.
Resolved, that the Senate supports efforts to build on the Affordable Care Act by ensuring that, in addition to the coverage options provided by private insurers, every American has access to a public health insurance option which, when established, will strengthen competition, improve affordability for families by reducing premiums and increasing choices, and save American taxpayers billions of dollars.
Other sponsors of the resolution include Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Al Franken (Minn.).
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee also has partnered with other groups to generate support for enacting a public option next year, including MoveOn.org and Democracy for America. These organizations will create a petition for supporters to express their views at a new website, WeWantAPublicOption.com.
“We see this as the most significant health care push by Democrats since the passage of Obamacare,” Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Stephanie Taylor said in a written statement.
No matter how much muscle Senate Democrats may put behind enacting a public option, the policy faces significant and possibly insurmountable obstacles in the near term.
Congressional Republicans continue to focus on repealing all of the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with some other scheme that would provide coverage and financial assistance to far fewer people. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump also backs Obamacare repeal and has outlined a vague alternative that would substantially increase the number of uninsured people.