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Medicare-for-All and Public Plan Buy-In Proposals: Overview and Key Issues

As policymakers debate next steps for expanding health insurance coverage and lowering health costs, some have introduced legislation that would broaden the role of public programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. During the 115th Congress, eight such proposals were introduced, ranging from bills that would create a new national health insurance program for all U.S. residents, replacing virtually all other sources of public and private insurance (Medicare-for-All), to more incremental approaches that would create a new public plan option, as a supplement to private sources of coverage and public programs.

What does “Medicare for All” mean? Our brief summarizes key issues and legislative proposals as this policy debate has received renewed attention on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail this year.

These eight legislative proposals differ in ways that have important implications for consumers, health care providers and payers, including employers, states, the federal government, and taxpayers. Key policy differences relate to eligibility, the size and scope of the public plan, covered benefits and cost sharing, premiums, subsidies for premium and cost sharing, cost containment strategies, and the likely interactions with current public programs and private sources of coverage. They also vary in their level of detail; some bills, according to their sponsors, are intended to serve as blueprints for reform, and are expected to include greater specificity over time. Given the timing of the legislative calendar, these bills are unlikely to advance in the current Congressional session; however, they illustrate the range of options that will likely serve as prototypes for legislation that may be introduced in the next session of Congress.

Greatly simplified, these public plan proposals fall into four general categories:

  • Two proposals would create Medicare-For-All, a single national health insurance program for all U.S. residents (Senator Sanders, S.1804; Rep. Ellison, H.R. 676);1
  • Three proposals would create a new public plan option, based on Medicare, that would be offered to individuals and some or all employers through the ACA marketplace (The Choice Act by Rep. Schakowsky, H.R. 635, and Sen. Whitehouse, S. 194); The Medicare-X Choice Act by Sen. Bennett, S. 1970, and Rep. Higgins, H.R.4094; and the Choose Medicare Act by Sen. Merkley, S. 2708 and Rep. Richmond, H.R. 6117)
  • Two proposals would create a Medicare buy-in option for older individuals not yet eligible for the current Medicare program (Sen. Stabenow, S. 1742; Rep. Higgins, H.R. 3748); and
  • One proposal would create a Medicaid buy-in option that states can elect to offer to individuals through the ACA marketplace. (Sen Schatz, S. 2001 and Rep. Luján, H.R. 4129).

This policy brief summarizes key features of these proposals, highlights similarities and differences, and discusses key questions, trade-offs and potential implications. Several of these proposals have both a House and Senate sponsor; throughout the document, we refer to the sponsor who first introduced the legislation.

Issue Brief

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.