With Sanders Endorsement Looming, Hillary Clinton Reaffirms Support for Public-Health-Care Option

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Democratic Presumptive Nominee for President former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Clinton's policy proposals are feeling another round of Bern.Photo: Melina Mara

According to a health-care policy proposal released on Saturday, Hillary Clinton has formally endorsed adding a so-called “public option” to Obamacare, allowing Americans access to Medicare starting at age 55, and both securing and expanding funding used to provide primary-care services at federally-qualified health-care centers. Clinton pushing the public option — which would create a government-run insurance plan that anyone can purchase — is really just a reaffirmation what has already been her decades-long support for the idea, though she had yet to formally endorse it during this campaign. Also, in the Democratic primaries, Clinton had attacked Bernie Sanders’s plan for a full single-payer health-care system to replace private insurance entirely, insisting the idea was unrealistic both financially and politically — angering many of his supporters in the process.

Now, with Sanders’s endorsement supposedly imminent, Clinton’s full re-embrace of the public option is likely designed to court unimpressed Sanders supporters. That and the other parameters of the new-and-improved plan were apparently the result of discussions with Team Sanders, according to Nate Cohn at the Huffington Post. Whether or not Sanders voters accept the gesture remains to be seen, but Sanders himself seems pleased:

But as Cohn points out, there is an important omission as well:

Of course, Clinton’s announcement comes with no policy details. She isn’t answering any of the many complicated questions that [the public option or Medicare expansion proposals] would raise ― like exactly how either the Obamacare public option or Medicare buy-in plan would pay the providers of medical services, or exactly who could enroll in either one.

Indeed, it’s worth remembering that the Democrats’ attempts to add a public option to Obamacare couldn’t get past other Democrats in Congress when they had majorities in both the Senate and House. But as Politico notes, the new plan indicates that Clinton will skip the likely-impossible fight in Congress, opting to instead “work with governors using existing flexibility under Obamacare ‘to empower states to establish a public option choice.’” A 2017 waiver program, which allows states to have greater control over their health-care systems, may play some role to that end.

The other elements of Clinton’s new health-care plan are expanding access to Medicare for people 55 and over (rather than the current 65 and over), and, as the Associated Press highlights, adopting Sanders’s idea to double the funding for federally-qualified health-care clinics, which provide essential primary care to millions of un- and underinsured Americans. Clinton’s plans calls for increasing funding for those services by $40 billion over the next ten years.

Clinton’s health-care-plan changes come just days after releasing a college-affordability plan which largely lines up with ideas Sanders had campaigned on. The news also follows the Democratic National Committee platform panel’s decision on Friday night to formally support a federal $15-an-hour minimum wage, which is another concession from Clinton supporters to the Sanders wing of the party. (An attempt on Friday to add language to the Democratic platform that explicitly opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal failed, however.)