Sen. Schatz proposes legislation that would open Medicaid to everyone

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D, Hawaii, wants to shake up the health industry.

If signed into law, the State Public Option Act would allow anyone to buy into Medicaid, a state-driven health care program that is usually only offered to low-income residents.

Schatz introduced the legislation with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D, N.M.

“The basic idea is when you look at those 30 million people (who still don’t have health care), in Hawaii it’s about five percent of the population. How do we try to fix that problem without taking away health care or taking away employer-based health care from everybody in Hawaii who really likes their insurance program as it is?” Schatz told KHON2. “Medicaid works well. It’s efficient. It’s one of the least expensive ways to provide health care to everyone, and it also has a pretty broad coverage network. The challenge has been traditionally that you have to be very, very poor to qualify for Medicaid, and what we’re saying is everybody should be able to buy into Medicaid if they want.”

What is Medicaid?

“Medicaid provides health coverage to millions of Americans, including eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities. Medicaid is administered by states, according to federal requirements.  The program is funded jointly by states and the federal government.” —

Schatz says he’s been working on the legislation for about nine months now.

He says the bill would help workers who do not have employer-sponsored coverage but may make too much to qualify for subsidies under the ACA.

It would also help consumers who live in counties with only one insurance carrier or who worry they may soon have no options for affordable coverage, he added.

“A lot of people who chose not to get health care are actually some of the healthiest folks, because they tend to be young. They tend to think they’re indestructible. We really want them into the system so we can improve the risk pool, because once you improve the risk pool, rates go down for everybody. So getting those people into the system is actually cheaper for everyone who is already in the system,” Schatz said.

“Our bill builds on a system that already works – a system that is already in place in every county in every state in the country; and a system that has built-in efficiencies,” Lujan said. “We think our approach will positively impact Americans at all income levels in all parts of the country – especially middle-class and working class families, so it is targeted at those who face some of the greatest challenges in finding affordable care.”

In the Senate, Schatz’s legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

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