This week, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren returned focus to the issue that continues to differentiate the parties in the minds of voters by introducing a new bill to update and protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The effort comes at an opportune moment—last year’s debate surrounding the failed Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare seems to have made Americans aware of the benefits of the legislation in a way they hadn’t been before. The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll shows that through the end of 2016, more adults had an unfavorable opinion about the ACA than had a favorable view of it, but then the trend switched. By last month, the favorable votes hit 54 percent, versus only 42 percent for unfavorable.
What’s more, an exit poll conducted during Pennsylvania’s special election in the 18th Congressional District on March 13th found that health care was a top priority for 52 percent of those who had cast ballots in the race. Democrat Conor Lamb’s support of Obamacare in the heavily Republican district (which Donald Trump won by 20 points in 2016) appears to have helped bump him over the top into victory, according to the new data, which were collected by Protect Our Care, a pro-ACA advocacy group.
Her backing of an Obamacare upgrade doesn’t mean she’s giving up on single-payer coverage, though. In September of last year, Warren signed on as a co-sponsor to the Medicare-for-all legislation put forward by Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, and according to a speech she gave to the consumer advocacy group Families USA in January, she continues to believe in it as a goal. But for now, she says in a new statement, “So long as private health insurance exists, there is no reason to allow our health care to be held hostage by insurance companies that refuse to do better.”
Warren’s new bill is called the Consumer Health Insurance Protection Act, and she has a bevy of other pro-single-payer Democrats co-sponsoring, including Sanders, California’s Kamala Harris, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, and Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin. At the heart of the legislation is a stipulation that no one would have to pay more than 8.5 percent of income on premiums. Out-of pocket payments for prescription drugs would be limited to $250 per person for all private plans.
To guard against unfair practices, the bill would require private insurance plans to spend at least 85 percent of premium dollars they take in on insurance claims, and it would require companies that bid on Medicare Advantage and Medicaid contracts to also offer plans on the ACA marketplaces in parts of the country where competition is less than robust.
A similar bill was introduced in the House a couple of weeks ago by Democrats Frank Pallone (NJ-6), Bobby Scott (VA-3), and Richard Neal (MA-1), called the Undo Sabotage and Expand Affordability of Health Insurance Act of 2018. That version would expand eligibility for premium tax credits to consumers who earn above the current cutoff of 400 percent of the federal poverty level, and it would increase the size of the tax credits.
Although the bills have almost no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Congress this year, they do give Democrats running in 2018 races some solid, realistic health care proposals to latch onto that don’t require them to commit to the politically risky idea of moving to single-payer coverage just yet. American voters definitely seem ready to shore up the current system, and liberal Democrats appear to think that once consumers get a taste of an even better health insurance marketplace they’ll want to make the move to single-payer.