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Shaheen, Hassan split on single-payer health care

  • Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen address the crowd at a town meeting at NHTI in February 2017. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Maggie Hassan AP file



Monitor staff
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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, creating a single government-run plan.

New Hampshire’s other senator, Democrat Maggie Hassan, released her own statement declining to support Sanders’s plan, saying she would rather focus on improving the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

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 “health care should be a fundamental right in this country.” But she acknowledged that single-payer health care legislation – which centrist Democrats and Republicans have long balked at – has long odds of passing.

“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 health care that all Americans need and deserve,” Shaheen said.

The system outlined in Sanders’s 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, Sanders’s 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. It has thrilled the party’s progressive base, attracting many potential 2020 presidential hopefuls eager to align those activists behind them. Yet Democratic leaders are stopping short of embracing it, and others are warning it’s a political and policy trap.

Underscoring the unease, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, a longtime backer of the single-payer idea, declined to endorse Sanders’s measure Tuesday. She told reporters her focus is defending President Barack Obama’s health care law from the all-but-dead Republican attempt to repeal it.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., noted that Democrats have introduced several bills on expanding coverage and said, “We’re looking at all of them.”

Meanwhile, the so-called single-payer bill has Republicans gleefully anticipating wielding it as a campaign weapon, particularly against the 10 Democrats defending Senate seats in states President Donald Trump won last year and where liberal voters are scarce.

Despite Shaheen’s announcement, no other members of New Hampshire’s all-Democratic delegation have shown support. A spokeswoman for 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.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Carol Shea-Porter said the congresswoman is also not supporting the bill.

Rather, in a Twitter post Wednesday, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter touted a bill she introduced that would make Medicare a public option available to be purchased alongside private health care plans, rather than as a replacement for those plans. In her post, Shea-Porter called that bill “the best next step toward universal healthcare.”

And Rep. Annie Kuster “supports the goal of universal health coverage,” but is also not backing Sanders’s proposals, a spokesman said Wednesday, who added that the congresswoman has instead proposed a “buy-in” option to allow those 55 and older to purchase Medicare.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at
@edewittNH.)