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Neither Pennsylvania senator backs Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-all plan

Wes Venteicher
| Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, 6:06 p.m.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey didn't offer his support to a Medicare-for-all plan Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed Wednesday, saying he is focused instead on stopping a new Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Sixteen Senate Democrats co-sponsored Sanders' proposal, according to the Vermont senator's office. The legislation would provide more generous benefits than the current Medicare program at an as-yet-unknown price.

“My first priority is protecting health care for Pennsylvania families, who are paying higher premiums and seeing increased costs because congressional Republicans and the administration are taking actions to undermine and sabotage our health care system,” Casey, of Scranton, said in an emailed statement.

Four Republican senators introduced a proposal the same day that would get rid of many of the 2010 Affordable Care Act's subsidies, taxes and its requirements that most people have insurance. The proposal would give states more flexibility in administering health care and replace some federal funding streams with block grants, according to a news release.

Steve Kelly, a spokesman for Sen. Pat Toomey, said in an email that the Lehigh Valley Republican is still reviewing the bill, which was introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina; Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana; Dean Heller, R-Nevada; and Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin.

Kelly addressed Sanders' proposal in a statement that referenced an Urban Institute analysis of a single-payer proposal Sanders put forward as a presidential primary candidate last year. The analysis estimated the plan would increase federal spending by $32 trillion between 2017 and 2026 while providing insurance for most of the people who are still uninsured.

“Senator Sanders' plan to allow the government to completely take over health care in this country will cost Americans $32 trillion. Senator Toomey does not support this,” Kelly said in a statement.

Toomey was one of 13 senators who helped craft a bill known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act that the Senate rejected earlier this week. The bill would have repealed the mandates that individuals and businesses buy or provide insurance, repealed taxes in the federal health law, changed premium subsidy structures, boosted health savings accounts, scaled back Medicaid spending and given states more flexibility in how they regulate plan benefits, among other changes.

In a news conference Wednesday, the Republican proposal's sponsors acknowledged the difficult path they face passing the bill before Oct. 1, when GOP repeal efforts lose protection from Democratic filibusters.

“To my Republican colleagues, don't let the health care debate die. Don't leave the field with your tail between your legs. Keep fighting,” Graham said.

Casey, who is up for re-election in 2018, said he supports a “Medicare-like public option” in which the government would offer a health plan to compete with private insurers. He said Americans in their 50s should be able to buy into Medicare and said he supports efforts by the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee to stabilize the Affordable Care Act's individual insurance markets.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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