Call it Medicare Part E. That’s what Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley have cooked up as the next big idea for health reform.
The two Democrats have worked the last six months on crafting legislation that would essentially allow anyone to opt into Medicare — although only those 65 and over would not have to pay a premium.
Unlike “Medicare for All,” Murphy would not mandate participation in Medicare but would make it an option for anyone seeking health insurance. It would be offered on marketplace exchanges, be available for companies providing insurance to employees, and even companies that self-insure could turn to Medicare to manage care.
The coverage, however, would not be subsidized by the government in any way. All administrative costs would be included in the premiums so that private health insurance companies would not be disadvantaged.
Murphy and Merkley expect there would be savings by allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, medical tests and hospital care. Those savings would be used to allow more individuals to qualify for enhanced subsidies to make premiums more affordable.
The bill was introduced this week in the Senate but is certain to die on the vine when the 115th Congress concludes business in January 2019 when it will have to be reintroduced for the 116th Congress. Murphy openly admits that the bill has a long way to go before becoming law. At this point, it is backed by a handful of Senate Democrats — including Senator Richard Blumenthal — and is aimed more at stirring debate within the party over the next big reform in health care.
“For those who think that Medicare is the right plan for all Americans, this bill puts that theory to test and allows for consumers and businesses to decide whether they want to remain on private insurance or switch to Medicare,” Murphy said. “Our belief is that the Medicare plan will be the most affordable and the most efficient, but we can’t know that unless everyone is given the choice to purchase a Medicare plan.”
Murphy says it is imperative that Democrats weigh in publicly with their ideas so that they don’t fall into the same trap as Republicans did in seeking to repeal Obamacare without a clear replacement.
DeLauro Eulogizes Slaughter
At a memorial service in Statuary Hall this week, Representative Rosa DeLauro praised the life of Rep. Louise Slaughter, a 16-term Democrat from New York whom she described as her sister and dear friend.
Slaughter, 88, was the ranking Democrat on the powerful Rules Committee (she chaired the panel from 2007-2011) and a passionate advocate for many of the same progressive issues that dominate DeLauro’s legislative agenda. Slaughter was born in Lynch, Kentucky, studied microbiology in college, and was first elected to Congress in 1986 representing mostly suburban and rural towns outside Buffalo, New York.
“You know, my mom’s name was Louisa and she lived with Stan and I later in her life, I began to call my mother ‘Little Babe.’ Louise and I got so close that I called her with the same term of endearment — ‘Lou Babe.’ My mom and my sister. I love them both,” DeLauro said.
DeLauro first met Slaughter in 1987 — four years before DeLauro was elected to Congress. They traveled together to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica as part of “Countdown 1987,” a campaign to end military funding to the Nicaraguan Contras.
While there, DeLauro recalls, they met clandestinely with the rebels one night. The next day, they were waiting for what seemed like an eternity for an elevator.
“Someone explained to us that the elevator was overworked because it was the only elevator in Nicaragua. We looked at one another and we said: We went to war with a country with only one elevator? How could this be?” DeLauro quipped.
Slaughter campaigned in New Haven for DeLauro during her first run for Congress in 1990 and were partners on many issues in Congress.
“It was my honor and privilege to fight side-by-side with Louise Slaughter,” DeLauro said. “Louise fought for peace. She fought for women. She fought for health care. She fought for women’s health. She fought for food safety. She fought for workers. She fought to end a war. She was fearless and peerless with a passion and a persistence that would make her Dad, a coal mine blacksmith, proud. She never backed away from a fight and with that warm smile, a sharp wit, and — an impish gleam in her eye, and that southern drawl, Louise would rip your heart out.”
Slaughter and her husband, Bob, were frequent guests at DeLauro’s house on Capitol Hill, where she hosts off-the-record policy dinners.
“She sat in the same place and we’re going to put a plaque on that, to say, ‘This is Louise Slaughter’s chair in this house,” DeLauro said.
Watch the memorial service on C-SPAN.
Blumenthal Wants Hearing Witness Held in Contempt
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal has asked for Adrian Abramovich of Miami, Florida to be held in contempt of Congress after refusing to answer questions during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing this week.
Abramovich is fighting a proposed $120 million fine from the Federal Communications Commission for allegedly bombarding consumers with 96 million spoofed robocalls in an attempt to sell vacation packages. He is fighting the fine and told the committee that his telemarketing was not fraudulent and that the vacation packages were to real resorts.
He appeared before the panel under a subpoena to discuss ways to stop abusive calls. Abramovich said he was claiming his Fifth Amendment privilege to not answer certain questions.
Blumenthal said the privilege cannot be invoked selectively.
“You can’t decide to answer some questions, then decide you don’t want to answer other questions about the same activities involving the same legal culpability,” he said.
Blumenthal complained at the hearing of a Connecticut woman who was plagued by an average of 7 to 10 robocalls a day. At the time, her son was deployed overseas.
“She had to change her number, her phone rang so often. The effect of these calls was pernicious and intrusive,” said Blumenthal in the hearing. “It strikes me, Mr. Abramovich, that without prejudging the result in your case, that a high percentage of the calls were not only intrusive, but potentially scams. That’s why the FCC has levied a fine that is virtually unprecedented in its history, and that’s why you’re here today.”
Listen to audio of the exchange here.
Connecticut Gets $5.5 Million to Combat Opioid Abuse
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently awarded $5.5 million to Connecticut to support the state’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. The funding is the second of two rounds called for in the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016.
The members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement announcing the funding calling it “a big step forward in combating the opioid epidemic in our state.”
HHS awarded a total of $485 million across the United States and its territories through the “Opioid State Targeted Response” grants.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal will be at Ridgefield High School at 10 a.m. to address students participating in a walkout to demand Congressional action on gun violence.
Representative Elizabeth Esty will be at the Kent School from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. to join students, faculty, and members of the community participating in a student-organized March for Action to end gun violence.