How to achieve universal, resilient, affordable healthcare for all

Before the pandemic, families were already struggling with the skyrocketing costs of healthcare and prescription drugs. Then, the pandemic struck, and it has shown that our healthcare system must be more resilient and less vulnerable to disaster; more equitable and less prone to racial injustice; and more affordable and less financially destructive.

My solution: Pass the Medicare for America Act, a bill I introduced with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) that would achieve universal, affordable, high-quality health coverage. Based on Medicare and Medicaid, it expands the benefits and services covered to include prescription drugs, dental, vision, hearing services, and long-term services and supports.

Given the tragedy that has ensued at nursing homes around the country during the pandemic, including in my state of Connecticut, it is long overdue that we re-imagine, quickly, how we handle aging in America. Medicare for America emphasizes home- and community-based services that would ensure those with disabilities and older Americans can live healthy lives in the community.

Medicare for America is universal—when the program starts there would be auto-enrollment at birth for children, and those who are currently uninsured or become uninsured would be covered.

While the bill allows employers to continue offering high-quality, gold-level coverage or higher to their employees, employers could enroll their employees in Medicare for America and just pay the government what they would have remitted to an insurance company. Or, employees could choose Medicare for America over coverage being offered by their employer, no questions asked. Their employer would continue contributing to the worker’s health coverage.

We have put a man on the moon, so surely we can figure out how employers can pay the government or an insurance company. Congressional employees have multiple options for insurance carriers and are proof that employers can do both.

During the pandemic, healthcare providers and workers have been unsung heroes providing care for Americans, and our healthcare system should recognize their worth and value. For many providers and workers, student loan debt imposes financial difficulties and barriers to their career goals, and since many healthcare workers are approaching much-deserved retirement, we need to expand the workforce.

To address these realities, Medicare for America creates a new student loan forgiveness program for healthcare workers like direct-care workers, mental health counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, physician assistants, pharmacists, dentists, dental hygienists, doctors and nurses. The program will forgive 10% of student loan debt for each year the provider or institution the provider works for accepts the Medicare for America plan.

We must also address reimbursement rates, and Medicare for America’s rates will be based on current Medicare and Medicaid rates, while proactively increasing rates for primary care as well as mental and behavioral health and cognitive services. Furthermore, Medicare for America establishes an all-payer rate-setting system to end the wide variation in prices. Private insurers would be allowed to offer plans in compliance with the Medicare for America Act rules.

Democrats believe every single person in this country should have quality, affordable health coverage. We just have a few different ideas on how to get there. The same cannot be said about the Republicans, who are actively seeking to take away healthcare from millions by uprooting the Affordable Care Act, with nary an idea for a replacement. If we could do it all over again, we would not choose our current system, but we must work with the hand we have been dealt. That is why Medicare for America takes the existing and very imperfect framework and makes the progressive and necessary changes to achieve our desired end goal–universal, high-quality coverage.

The 116th Congress: Policymaking Amid the Pandemic


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