Exclusive: Sen. Schatz’s new health care idea could be the Democratic Party’s future

By:  Sarah Kliff and Jeff Stein

August 22 — Democrats are ready to go on the health care offensive. And Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) may have a new plan for them to do it.

In an interview with Vox, Schatz revealed that he’s preparing a new bill that could grant more Americans the opportunity to enroll in Medicaid by giving states the option to offer a "buy-in" to the government program on Obamacare's exchanges.

His proposal would expand the public health insurance program from one that covers only low-income Americans to one open to anyone seeking coverage, depending on what each state does. The idea is similar to the government-run “public option” that some Democrats advocated for during the battle over the Affordable Care Act’s passage.

Schatz’s proposal comes in the wake of Republicans’ failed efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, where Medicaid proved an especially resilient benefit. Some Republican senators who signed on to bills that would greatly slash subsidies for private insurance drew the line at Medicaid cuts, arguing they would be too harmful to low-income Americans.

“One of the unintended consequences of the Republicans trying to cut Medicaid is they made Medicaid really popular,” Sen. Schatz said in an interview. “This conversation has shifted. There was a time where Medicare was really popular and Medicaid was slightly less popular. What this ACA battle did was make both of them almost equally popular.”

The proposal also comes amid an intraparty debate among Democrats about how to build on the health care law. The party rallied around the Affordable Care Act during Republican attacks, but coming out of that intense fight, different ideas have emerged about how to continue expanding health insurance coverage. Progressives have rallied around single-payer, embracing Bernie Sanders’s plan to virtually eradicate private health insurance and replace it with a single government insurer as a means of extending coverage to the 28 million Americans who currently still don’t have it

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