Sens. Chris Murphy, at podium, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., promote their plan to let individuals and businesses buy Medicare health coverage through Affordable Care Act exchanges. Ana Radelat /
Sens. Chris Murphy, at podium, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., promote their plan to let individuals and businesses buy Medicare health coverage through Affordable Care Act exchanges. Ana Radelat /

Washington – Sen. Chris Murphy on Wednesday introduced legislation that would allow individuals and businesses to purchase Medicare coverage.

A Medicare option would be available in all state and federal Affordable Care Act exchanges, according to Murphy’s bill, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. Medicare, a government-run health plan, is currently limited to Americans 65 years old and older.

Murphy acknowledged the plan has little chance of approval with a Congress and White House controlled by the GOP, but said it’s important to have conversations with constituents on proposals to shore up the nation’s health care system.

“It’s a moment where we have to have health care ideas blossom,” he said.

Murphy also said that Democratic candidates running for office this year need to promote ideas that would strengthen the ACA, which he said “the president is trying to destroy.”

Under Murphy’s plan, people who qualified for ACA subsidies could use them to purchase a Medicare “Part E” plan. That Medicare component would use the same network of doctors and hospitals who now serve Medicare patients, but WOULD include other non-elderly medical services, including pediatric and maternity care.

Murphy said the program would pay for itself and even result in excess revenues that would be used to increase the amount of ACA subsidies and expand that help to more Americans

The Affordable Care Act initially aimed to have exchanges like Access Health CT include a government-run plan in their offerings of health insurance policies to the public. But the idea for a “public option,” failed because it could not receive enough political support.

Murphy called his plan “a public option on steroids” because businesses, as well as individuals, would be able to buy into Medicare.

Murphy said he did not support Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan because it would eliminate health insurers from the marketplace.

“I’m not sure you can pass a plan that outlaws insurance,” he said. “This plan has the best chance of getting Republican support.

The Murphy-Merkle bill, is co-sponsored by 10 senators, all Democrats, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal. It would give patients a choice between the Medicare option and private insurance and would provide competition to the nation’s health insurers, resulting in lower premiums and better coverage, Murphy said.

“Insurance companies are not going to be thrilled by more competition,” he said.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, a national trade association for health insurers, said it did not have an immediate reaction to Murphy’s bill.

The Murphy-Merkley bill also would increase ACA subsidies, which are now capped at 400 percent of the federal poverty level for individuals and families. The bill would increase that cap to 600 percent of the federal poverty level.

Medicare Part E would be divorced from the Medicare Trust Fund, financed instead by premiums that would be set in each state by that state’s insurance commissioner based on a number of factors, including age and the cost of health care in a region, much like the rates of health insurance policies are set now.

However Murphy said Medicare Part E would offer lower premiums by leveraging “the existing network and low administrative costs” of the Medicare program – and would generate additional savings by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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