Democrats to Call for Public Option in Party Platform

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By Nathaniel Weixel

July 1 — Democrats will call for a public health insurance option in their national party platform, according to the latest draft of the document released July 1.

The language is meant to bring the party a step closer to its goal of universal health care, either through Medicare or a public option. Hillary Clinton has supported a Medicare buy-in or a public option, but the inclusion of a public option represents a victory for Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who had been campaigning on a promise of ‘"Medicare for all.”

The full Democratic Platform Committee will meet in Orlando July 8-9 to approve the final draft of the platform ahead of the convention, which begins July 25. The platform is meant to signal the general beliefs of the party and the direction it wants to move in. The inclusion of some of the more progressive ideas is the party's attempt to unify ahead of the convention.

A public option was initially part of discussions when the ACA was being negotiated, but lawmakers eventually realized there wasn't political support for it, especially among moderate Democrats. Progressives supported it as a voluntary transition toward single-payer insurance, while conservatives opposed it as a government takeover of health care.

Cost of Care

The platform also calls for capping the amount Americans have to pay out-of-pocket every month on prescription drugs, as well as allowing “individuals, pharmacists, and wholesalers to import prescription drugs from licensed pharmacies in Canada and other countries with appropriate safety protections.”

It also calls for prohibiting “pay for delay” deals, under which makers of brand-name drugs pay potential competitors to keep lower-priced generic substitutes off the market.

Democrats also want Medicare to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers for lower prices. Medicare currently doesn't have that authority; it was banned when Part D was added to the Medicare program in a 2003 law.

While Medicare negotiations and drug importation aren't new, they're notable this year because presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has split from his party's standard view. Trump has said he wants the government to negotiate drug prices, and has also called for importing cheaper drugs from foreign countries.

Democrats will also work to “end surprise billing and other practices associated with out-of-control medical debt that lead to unconscionable economic strain on American households,” the platform said. “We will offer relief so Americans do not face high costs, and we will fight back against insurers trying to impose excessive premium increases.”

Surprise billing is when patients encounter unexpected bills from out-of-network providers, usually in a hospital inpatient care situation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nathaniel Weixel in Washington at nweixel@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

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