Shaheen, Hassan split on single-payer health care

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Sen. Jeanne Shaheen threw her support behind an expansive plan for single-payer health insurance set

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen threw her support behind an expansive plan for single-payer health insurance set to be introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders — the only member of New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation to do so.

In a statement Tuesday, Shaheen announced that she would support the proposed bill, known as the Medicare for All Act of 2017, which would expand insurance coverage under the present Medicare plan to all Americans to create a single government-run plan. 

The bill, as outlined, would provide all Americans access to a taxpayer-funded health plan to cover a comprehensive range of services, including hospital stays, prescription drugs, medical devices, and vision and dental care. It would also bar employers from offering private plans that might compete with that system, and would phase out the present Medicaid and Medicare systems and transfer recipients into the new program.

Announcing her decision, Shaheen said she gave her support out of a belief that “healthcare should be a fundamental right in this country.” But she acknowledged that a single-payer health care system — which centrist Democrats and Republicans have long balked at — has long odds of success.

“I know that in a Republican-controlled Congress this legislation will not pass in the near term, but I believe this bill puts pressure on Congress to think big when it comes to providing the healthcare that all Americans need and deserve,” Shaheen said. 

The system outlined in Sanders’ proposed bill does not cover long-term care, nor prescription drug costs, for which consumers may pay up to $250 out of pocket. The proposal does not disclose how the new system would be paid for, information that had still not been released Wednesday.

Shaheen, the senior New Hampshire senator, joins a faction of prominent Democrats to have backed the proposed bill; on Tuesday, Sen. Sanders’ office told the Washington Post that he had the support of at least 15 Democratic senators. 

The bill has divided the Democratic party, framed by the left as a “litmus test” of politicians’ progressive bona fides. 

Other members of New Hampshire’s all-Democratic delegation have declined to show support. A spokeswoman for Sen. Maggie Hassan said Wednesday the senator would not back the single payer bill.

“That approach is not what Senator Hassan is focused on,” the spokeswoman, Ricki Eshman, said. “What the Senator is focused on is finding ways to work across the aisle to improve and build on the Affordable Care Act so that we can bring down health care costs – particularly the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs – that are squeezing families in New Hampshire and across the country.”

And in a Twitter post shortly after Shaheen’s announcement, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter touted a bill she introduced that would make Medicare a public option available to be purchased alongside private healthcare plans, rather than as a replacement of those plans. 

In her post, Shea-Porter called that bill “the best next step toward universal healthcare.”

Spokespeople for Kuster and Shea-Porter did not immediately specify their positions on Sanders’ bill.

Shaheen, Hassan split on single-payer health care

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