WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oregon's U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley is one of the chief sponsors for a bill that proposes greatly expanding Medicare access — a potential stepping stone to "Medicare for All," Merkley's office said in a statement.
Merkley joined Democratic Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Dianne Feinstein of California in introducing the bill, dubbed the Choose Medicare Act. According to Merkley's office, the bill would allow anyone who is not currently eligible for Medicaid or Medicare the opportunity to enroll in Medicare as an individual, and allow employers the ability to purchase Medicare coverage for employees.
“In the richest country in the world, no person should have to worry about whether they’ll be able to afford care if they become sick or get into an accident. That means every American needs high-quality, affordable health care,” said Merkley. “Luckily, we already have an effective, popular solution, and it’s called Medicare. It’s time we put consumers and businesses in the driver’s seat on the road to universal health care by letting every American have the option to secure coverage through this program.”
If passed, the bill would create an addendum to Medicare, called Medicare Part E, that would be open to consumer access.
Merkley's office said that the Medicare expansion would be "fully paid for by premiums" and would be offered on all state and federal exchanges. Current Affordable Care Act subsidies would then apply to help pay for it. Employers would also be able to choose the new Medicare Part E instead of a private insurance plan.
Democrats who support the bill say that it would establish an out-of-pocket maximum for Medicare, expand and increase premium tax credits, direct Medicare to negotiate prices on prescription drugs, and drive down private insurance rates through competition with the expanded Medicare option.
While Merkley said that he supports the concept of Medicare for All and hopes to transition toward it, the new bill sets a course somewhere between that proposal and the idea of a "public option," which President Biden has said he supports. However, it's unclear if Biden will introduce his own version of a public option going forward.