A leading liberal policy group is raising the ante in the health care debate with a new plan that builds on Medicare to guarantee coverage for all.
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Called "Medicare Extra for All," the proposal Thursday from the Center for American Progress, or CAP, would provide a path toward universal health care coverage.
But in a nod to political pragmatism, the plan would preserve roles for employer coverage and for the health insurance industry. Employers and individuals would have a choice of joining Medicare Extra, but it would not be required.
That differs from the more traditional "single-payer" approach advocated by Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, in which the government would hold the reins of the health care system.
The plan's authors acknowledge that the plan would require significant tax increases.
Even though it has no chance of passing in a Republican-controlled Congress, center president Neera Tanden said, "there is consensus on the progressive side that universal coverage should be the goal and health care is a right."
As Democrats shift leftward, Republicans are saying the CAP plan shows Democrats are turning on "Obamacare."
"Their latest big government scheme increases the amount of control Washington has over their care and everyday lives," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
The center was closely aligned with former President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. A 2005 proposal from CAP foreshadowed Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Medicare Extra would use Medicare's thrifty payment system as a framework to pool working-age people and their families, low-income people now covered by Medicaid, and seniors. A major missing piece: There's no cost estimate for the plan, although its authors say that's in the works.
The proposal comes at a time when polls show intense interest among Democrats and some independents in a government-run system that would guarantee coverage.
Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation said taxes would rise and the federal government would take on a larger role under the proposal, but that's still "a more politically and fiscally realistic roadmap" than full government control.
Among Medicare Extra's major elements:
—All U.S. citizens and lawful residents would be eligible.
—Preventive care, treatment for chronic disease, and generic prescription drugs would be free. Dental, vision and hearing services would be included.
—Low-income people would pay no premiums or copays. Premiums and cost-sharing would be determined according to income for everyone else.
—Employers would have the option of maintaining their own plans or joining Medicare Extra. Workers could pick either plan.
—Government would negotiate prices for prescription drugs.
Center for American Progress proposal: https://www.americanprogress.org/?p=447095