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Hillary Clinton revives support for healthcare 'public option'

By Eric DuVall
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters in Oakland, Calif., last week. Clinton told a voters in Virginia on Monday she supports the so-called "public option" to allow some older Americans to buy into Medicare rather than buy a private health insurance plan. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters in Oakland, Calif., last week. Clinton told a voters in Virginia on Monday she supports the so-called "public option" to allow some older Americans to buy into Medicare rather than buy a private health insurance plan. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, May 10 (UPI) -- Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, making a significant shift to her left as she's poised to enter the campaign's general election, revived the political debate over the so-called "public option," a healthcare proposal that would allow older Americans to buy into Medicare.

The public option became a political football during President Barack Obama's first term, when it was at the center of the debate over his Affordable Care Act. The public option was, at the time, seen as a sort of half-measure that stopped short of the liberal goal to create a single-payer government healthcare system and centrists who wanted to preserve the private health insurance system.

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Clinton, speaking at a coffee shop in northern Virginia, said she backs the public option.

"I'm also in favor of what's called the public option, so that people can buy into Medicare at a certain age," she said, according to Bloomberg News. "Which will take a lot of pressure off the costs."

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The public option as proposed by Obama would have allowed all Americans the option of buying into the government-run Medicare program at their choosing. Supporters said it would still preserve the private healthcare system many Americans have. Those opposed said if the government wanted, it could simply undercut the private market with its large buying power, leading to the eventual collapse.

Clinton's version would limit those eligible for the public option to Americans over the age of 50 or 55, she suggested.

Clinton's renewed emphasis on the public option -- a position she's held for some time on her campaign website, but that she has declined to highlight on the campaign trail -- comes as she continues to struggle to put away her challenger for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. During his campaign, Sanders has tacked to Clinton's left on healthcare, calling for scrapping the Affordable Care Act and instead creating a true single-payer healthcare system, the so-called Medicare-for-all plan.

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While Sanders' proposal is supported by many on the left, Clinton has dismissed it as a political impossibility, noting the nation already went through a divisive fight over healthcare during Obama's first term and the progress Democrats made in their goal of expanding health insurance to millions of Americans shouldn't be shrugged off.

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Clinton aides said she would also be open to a version of the public option that would compete in the health insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, where Americans without health insurance can turn to purchase a plan for themselves.

Clinton made the remarks when responding to a woman's complaint she is not eligible to receive any of the tax breaks created for low- and middle-class Americans under the Affordable Care Act. The law creates subsidies for individuals making 400 percent above the poverty line to help handle the cost of buying health insurance. However, as the voter pointed out to Clinton, right now if someone makes even $1 above the income threshold, they are not available for the subsidies and must pay the full cost of a plan on their own.

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Clinton said she sympathized with the plight of people who might still need the government's help but make just barely too much money. She said she prefers a "gradual" decrease in subsidies, rather than the present hard cutoff. She also said the public option could be a way to help some people obtain cheaper insurance.

The logic behind the proposal, The New York Times reports, is that if more Americans in their 50s, who are considered a higher risk by insurers, are moved into Medicare, it would enable insurance companies to charge lower rates to younger, generally healthier Americans.

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