“It’s to provide the opportunity to people who are not eligible for Medicare to never-the-less join Medicare and have all the advantages of reliability, efficiency, and security of Medicare,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, describing the Medicare For All bill he will be cosponsoring in the coming days.
“At this point, it’s pretty aspirational,” he said. “A lot of the details still remain to be worked out.”
Whitehouse doesn’t think the Republican-controlled Congress will pass the Medicare For All bill. “Really the point is to move the conversation forward.” he said.
That conversation, Whitehouse hopes, will also include the so-called “public option” or a government-run healthcare plan that competes with private sector plans. He’s a cosponsor of a public option bill this year, and he and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown cosponsored the public option amendment that fell one vote shy of being a part of the Affordable Care Act, Whitehouse said.
“There are lots of different audiences we need to work with,” he said. “Fundamentally, the goal should be that healthcare is available to everyone in the country and the only entity that can really do that is the government.”
The bill’s lead sponsor is Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, who popularized the concept during his presidential campaign. Sanders, a socialist-leaning Democrat, is the most popular politician in the country and the odds-on-favorite at this point to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020.
To date, half of Rhode Island’s four-person congressional delegation publicly supports Medicare For All. Whitehouse is a cosponsor of Sanders’ bill, and in the House, Congressman David Cicilline is a cosponsor of Congressman John Conyer’s similar legislation.
“I’m proud to be a co-sponsor of the Medicare for All Act,” Cicilline told RI Future yesterday. “Medicare is an efficient and tested health care delivery model, and expanding it for every American will further improve access to health care and reduce costs.”
Senator Jack Reed’s office has not returned several calls from RI Future seeking a comment and a spokeswoman for Congressman Jim Langevin said yesterday he remains open-minded but not committed to Medicare For All.
Whitehouse equivocated slightly when asked if healthcare should be regarded as a fundamental right. “It’s hard to say that something you have to pay for is a natural right, but it should be a social right. Public education is a good example.”
He said Obamacare, and the ensuing Republican attempts to destroy it, have opened Americans hearts and minds to universal healthcare. “Talking about socialized medicine and the indulging in the fantasy that the free markets work in this scenario has run its course,” he said. “The real issue isn’t slogans. It’s how much do you have to pay and how are you treated.”
Whitehouse is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which is holding hearings this month about stabilizing the existing insurance exchanges created by Obamacare. That, he says, is evidence that “the menace of repeal and replace is in the rear view mirror.”