News Local/State

Durbin Wants ‘Medicare For All’ Health Program In Long Term, ‘Public Option’ Now

Jeremy Flynn (left) of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin at a news conference in Urbana.

Jeremy Flynn (left) of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin at a news conference in Urbana. Brian Moline / Illinois Public Media

US Senator Dick Durbin wants to see the United States eventually implement a “Medicare for all” type health care program.

At a news conference at Presence Covenant Hospital in Urbana Thursday, the Illinois Democrat acknowledged that isn’t politically feasible now with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the White House.

But Durbin says an interim step could be offering some type of “public option” as part of the Affordable Care Act’s existing insurance exchanges.

“And the interim is to offer a public option," Durbin said, "so that people go into the exchanges and have one not-for-profit type Medicare program available, a Medicare Advantage program, for example.”

US Senator Dick Durbin speaking at a news conference at Presence Convenant Medical Center in Urbana.

Brian Moline/Illinois Public Media

Durbin appeared with doctors and health care advocates Thursday to discuss opposition to the Republican health care legislation pending in the Senate.

Nancy Greenwalt is executive director of Promise Healthcare, which runs three community health centers in Champaign-Urbana. Greenwalt says the ACA has helped underserved populations in Champaign-Urbana get access to healthcare that wasn't previously available to them.

"Before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid for Illinois, nearly half of our patients were low income and uninsured," Greenwalt said. "Today, less than a quarter of our patients are uninsured, and about 52 percent are on Medicaid."

Jeremy Flynn with the Illinois Health and Hospital Association says in addition to millions of people losing health coverage, that legislation would lead to big job losses in Illinois.

"250,000 people are employed in health care, so there's a direct impact on that as well," Flynn said. "This bill puts that in jeopardy. If we reduce the ACA population alone, we're looking at an impact of between 55,000 and 60,000 jobs."

The Congressional Budget Office says the Republican bill in the Senate would lower health insurance premiums over the next ten years, but some 22 million Americans would lose coverage, two-thirds of them currently covered by Medicaid.

Durbin noted several problems with the Affordable Care Act, most notably high prescription drug prices. He said he's willing to work with Republicans on ACA fixes, including allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies on prescription drug prices, as the Veterans Administration already does.