Leading Blue Dog suggests opening Medicare to uninsured

By Mike Soraghan
The Hill
10/15/09

First he was for it. Then he was against it. Now Rep. Mike Ross is back on board with a government-run healthcare plan. Sort of.

Ross (D-Ark.), who had emerged as a leader among centrist Blue Dog Democrats opposing the public health insurance option, has suggested something his colleagues consider even more drastic – opening Medicare to those under 65 without insurance.

He made the suggestion in meetings with House Democratic leaders and brought the idea to the closed-door House Democratic Caucus meeting Thursday.

“I — speaking only on behalf of myself — suggested one possible idea could be that instead of creating an entirely new government bureaucracy to administer a public option, Medicare could be offered as a choice,” Ross said in a statement to The Hill.

Medicare would then compete with private insurers across the age spectrum. It would be open to those who don’t have insurance through their employers, the same people who would be covered by the public option already under discussion.

But Ross said he would want reimbursement for providers to be at a “much greater rate” than it is now. Medicare reimbursement rates have been a sore point for rural lawmakers who feel that Medicare shortchanges their hospitals.

His statement went on to say that he does “not support a government-run public option” and he does “not endorse this idea” of opening up Medicare. He said he is looking for solutions in the healthcare debate.

The hostility directed at Medicare by rural, centrist, Blue Dog lawmakers is what makes Ross’s Medicare suggestion so surprising. He is all three – a rural, centrist Blue Dog. Indeed he is a former co-chairman of the coalition, and is the leader of the Blue Dogs’ Health Care Task Force.

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