As U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont prepares to unveil his proposal Wednesday for a government-run, single-payer health care program, one colleague he has yet to bring on board is Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey.
At least eight Senate Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors of the Sanders bill, dubbed Medicare for All. Those include a handful of Democrats eyeing potential presidential bids in 2020, such as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Casey — who faces re-election next year — told reporters Tuesday he won’t take a position on Sanders’ proposal until he has seen the bill, adding that he views it as a concept that would require public hearings.
Instead, Casey was more supportive of crafting a public option plan that would compete with private insurance plans.
“We could, I think, take a giant step forward on coverage for many more Americans if we implemented right now a Medicare-like public option,” Casey told reporters Tuesday. “I already voted for it. I’d vote for it again.”
The bill expected Wednesday from Sanders reflects a growing policy push among Democrats toward a single-payer health care system, but one on which they are far from unanimous regarding the details.
Several of Casey’s fellow Democrats who will be on the ballot next year also have expressed some reservations, with Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill calling the idea of single-payer “premature.” In July, four Democrats from states that President Donald Trump won last year — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Jon Tester of Montana and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — voted against a single-payer health care amendment.
McCaskill and several others, however, have said they support allowing those aged 55 and older to buy in to the Medicare program, which is available to those 65 or older.
Public polls have showed an increase in support for the concept of a single-payer health care program. In a December Gallup poll, 43 percent of respondents said they preferred a government-run health care system. A majority — 53 percent — preferred a private system, but it was the narrowest gap between the two that Gallup has recorded.
In the House, a majority of Democratic lawmakers have signed onto a single-payer bill brought by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. He has introduced the bill repeatedly, but with much less support in the past. Cosponsors include all five Pennsylvania House Democrats.
“Expanding Medicare to all is an option for the future which I do tend to favor,” said U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat whose 17th District includes part of Northampton County. “Our guiding principles going forward should be to keep community and rural hospitals in business, maximize health coverage and minimize costs to individuals and businesses on both pharmaceuticals and health care in general.”
As Democrats debate a single-payer system, four Republican senators are expected to unveil what’s likely the last GOPn push this year on repealing and replacing Obamacare.
The proposal from U.S. Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Dean Heller of Nevada and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is anticipated to give states more control by combining dollars currently specified for the Medicaid expansion or Obamacare subsidies into lump sums that states could use to provide insurance, create high-risk pools or other health care programs.
Pennsylvania’s current Republican senator, Pat Toomey, did not yet have a position on the Graham-Cassidy proposal as of Tuesday, according to his staff.
Any last-ditch effort on undoing Obamacare would need to be done quickly. The special procedural rules that Senate Republicans put in place so they’d need only 51 votes to repeal Obamacare will expire at the end of the month, leaving only a handful of session days before the focus will turn fully to tax reform.