Dem presidential hopeful Bennet champions reducing health costs in DHMC visit

  • Presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet talks with Ben Usadi after speaking at Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Grand Rounds in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. Usadi and Bennet both went to Wesleyan. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet speaks before Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Grand Rounds in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 08, 2019

LEBANON — Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet on Tuesday called for the creation of a public health insurance option, saying millions of Americans can no longer afford private plans.

The presidential contender told about 25 people gathered at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center that health care and drug costs should be reduced. However, he dismissed the idea of throwing out the current health system, including private insurance, in its entirety.

Adopting a government-run single-payer system like those championed by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., would increase taxes on the middle class and amount to an “enormous mistake.” Bennet said.

“I think we should be interested in (reducing costs) rather than some command and control system that reaches end-to-end across the country that imagines what (health) outcomes might look like,” he said. “I have very little faith that something like that is going to give us the quality that we need or the health care savings that we need.”

Instead, Bennet advocated for what he calls “Medicare X,” a public health insurance option that would be made available on the insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act, which is also known as Obamacare.

Medicare X would cover all of the health benefits mandated by the ACA, including maternity and mental health care, and Americans wouldn’t pay more than 13% of their annual income on premiums, according to Bennet’s campaign website.

Roll out of the public option would begin in rural communities that have no or only one insurer offering coverage, Bennet said. The plan then would be available nationwide in two years.

Bennet said the plan was the result of town hall and campaign events where people told him they struggle to afford housing, early childhood care and higher education along with health care.

“In other words, ‘we can’t afford a middle class life,’ ” he said.

Bennet said his plan would build off of the Affordable Care Act, which he supported after winning election to the Senate in 2009.

“I think it was good that we passed it because there are a lot of people now that have Medicaid that didn’t have Medicaid before,” he said. “But we never got to the cost stuff that we really needed to do.”

Bennet said his plan would save money by requiring the federal government to negotiate drug prices. The rates paid to health care providers also would be lower than those provided by private insurance plans.

But Bennet said he’s committed to providing additional funds for rural hospitals, saying too many are in danger of closing.

“There’s really no excuse for this. We have to have money to keep these hospitals open,” he said. “If we’re going to decide that we want to have rural America survive, we’re going to have to have rural hospitals, and we’re going to have to have rural schools.”

Talk on Tuesday also turned to other foreign policy and domestic issues, including President Donald Trump’s recent announcement that the U.S. is withdrawing troops from Syria.

Bennet called the move “ridiculous” and said it could endanger Kurdish allies who worked with coalition forces against the Islamic State group.

“Virtually every single member of the Senate has said ‘This is nuts, what he’s done,’ ” Bennet said, adding the president didn’t consult Congress or America’s allies before making the decision.

On impeachment proceedings, Bennet said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “didn’t really have much of a choice left.”

Reports of a quid pro quo deal with Ukraine’s president to investigate the Bidens were “just a bridge too far,” he added.

While Manchester resident George Marshall said Bennet’s stances were interesting, they weren’t enough to make him declare his support.

Marshall asked whether the number of congresspeople should be expanded to better represent constituents, a question that was met by Bennet saying he’d never thought of the issue.

“I’m interested in candidates who advocate for systemic changes,” Marshall said.

A Real Clear Politics’ national polling average puts Bennet’s support at 0% in New Hampshire, at the bottom of the field with Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Ohio congressman Tim Ryan and former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.