Progressives propose Medicare for the Uninsured; Pelosi proposes COBRA subsidies

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal draft a bill that would expand Medicare to all who are uninsured for the duration of the crisis. Nancy Pelosi introduces a bill that would cover the full cost of premiums for people who lost employer-sponsored health insurance. Unfortunately, that accounts for less than 4 million of the 35 million and counting who are uninsured right now.

Show Notes

Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Sen. Bernie Sanders introduce a bill that would extend Medicare to the uninsured, and cover everyone else’s co-payments and deductibles, until a vaccine for the coronavirus is widely available.

Less than a week later, representing a true profile in courage, Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership instead propose a bill that would 100% subsidize COBRA coverage for the duration of the crisis. What is COBRA and why is this problematic? COBRA is a program that lets workers who are laid off or furloughed stay on their former employer’s health plan, IF they pay 100% of the premium (including their employer’s share and their share).

However, you can’t access COBRA coverage if :

  • you work for a small employer (under 20 employees);
  • you buy healthcare on your own through an exchange or a broker;
  • your former employer never offered you health insurance; or
  • your former employer closes down their healthcare plan altogether – which will be very common during this crisis.

These categories will disproportionately include low-income workers and people of color – all of whom would be left out of the program.

Where did Pelosi come up with this crackpot plan to address a looming national crisis in access to healthcare? It turns out the health insurance company lobby delivered a letter to Congress calling for the exact policies that Democratic leadership are now proposing.

Another interesting development: Joe Biden proposes lowering the eligibility age of Medicare to 60. This would be an incremental step towards Medicare for All, but the timing of the proposal – one day after Bernie Sanders suspended his Presidential campaign – indicates this was either a negotiated compromise between the Biden and Sanders campaigns, or an attempt by Biden to win over Sanders supporters.

An important action to close the pod: we ask our listeners to sign this petition calling on Congress to support the Public Postal Service. The USPS is actually an integral part of our healthcare system, responsible for delivering prescriptions to millions of Americans, particularly to older people and in rural areas. But the USPS could run out of money as early as June, due to plummeting use of postal services by the industries that have been forced to close.

To add insult to injury, the only reason the USPS is struggling financially is that a 2006 law passed by Congress forces the Postal Service to pre-fund their retiree healthcare costs 75 years in advance! If we had Medicare for All, our Postal Service wouldn’t have to pay for healthcare premiums at all, much less fund them for future retirees who haven’t even been born yet.

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