CHRISTINE STUART / CTNEWSJUNKIE FILE

WASHINGTON — Representatives Joe Courtney and John Larson joined other Democrats Wednesday to once again introduce legislation that would allow older Americans, who are not yet eligible for Medicare, to buy into the federal health care program.

The two are original co-sponsors of a bill introduced by New York Democrat Brian Higgins that would expand access to Medicare to those aged 50-64. Higgins first proposed the bill during the previous Congress and has reintroduced it now as a growing number of Democrats are seeking even more aggressive options to provide affordable quality care to Americans.

“The American people have made it extremely clear that health care affordability is the number one issue facing their families, and they expect Congress to put forward real solutions,” Courtney said.

Higgins unveiled his bill alongside Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who has introduced a Senate version of the bill that is similar to one she also introduced in the previous Congress. Her earlier version would have made those aged 55-64 eligible. She’s now aligned her bill to the 50-64 age range proposed by the House Democrats. In an interview with Vox News, Stabenow touted the proposal as a more workable approach than the “Medicare for all” option to replace private insurance with a government-run plan.

“This is something that could provide health care coverage, that could work right now,” she said in the interview.

The bill would allow those who are ages 50-64 to:

• Purchase Medicare coverage (Part A, B, and D, or a Medicare Advantage plan) at-cost, keeping the program budget neutral.
• Plans would be offered on the health exchanges, providing opportunity for comparison-shopping.
• Those eligible for premium tax credits or cost-sharing reductions could apply them towards their buy-in premium.
• A public Medigap option would be created for all Medicare beneficiaries to purchase additional benefits.
• The federal government would be allowed to negotiate volume discounts on prescription drugs.

Larson called the bill “a simple and commonsense solution” to strengthen the nation’s health care system.

“In a time where our health care system and protections for patients continue to be attacked, it is time that we focus on helping Americans obtain access to quality, affordable health care. This bill does just that. A 60-year-old American could see a 40-percent savings in their premium. This legislation would strengthen patient protections and put money back in people’s pockets,” he said.

The legislation faces an uphill battle — particularly in the Senate — where the Republican majority has sought to roll back the Affordable Care Act as it stands and have strongly denounced proposals to create a public option for the health care law.

Courtney says many of his constituents over age 50 are facing high premiums and that a Medicare Buy-In would provide a “well-respected option to those struggling to afford premiums today.” 

The bill’s introduction signals the start of what will likely be a long debate among Democrats in Congress over the health care issue as they look ahead to the 2020 elections where a takeover of the White House or Senate would give them a more realistic chance of enacting such reforms. Democrats offered similar proposals in the 115th Congress that broke down into four basic options — Medicare-for-all, a Public Option, Medicare-Buy-In for Individuals, and an option for a State-based Medicare-Buy-In.

The Kaiser Foundation helpfully compared the plans, which you can review online at http://bit.ly/2GLfeFY