By Sarah Ferris - 08/16/16 05:11 PM EDT
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other healthcare reform advocates are revving up their push for a “public option” after Aetna’s retreat from the ObamaCare marketplace this week.
Sanders on Tuesday vowed to bring back the debate on a government-run insurance option one day after the nation’s third-largest insurer announced a major pullback from the exchanges.
The senator said he would reintroduce his legislation to create a “Medicare-for-all” system in the next session of the Senate, “hopefully” after Democrats regain control of the chamber in the November elections.
“In my view, the provision of health care cannot continue to be dependent upon the whims and market projections of large private insurance companies whose only goal is to make as much profit as possible,” Sanders said in a statement on Tuesday.
“That is why we need to join every other major country on earth and guarantee health care to all as a right, not a privilege,” he said.
Aetna announced late Monday that it would pull out of ObamaCare exchanges in 11 states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas. The company’s CEO, Mark Bertolini, cited $200 million in losses over the past few months as a major reason for the move.
The insurer’s high-profile departure is a major blow to the healthcare law. Still, longtime public-option proponents believe they have a new opportunity to take aim at the healthcare law's heavy reliance on insurers for coverage.
Sanders, who battled Hillary Clinton in a close Democratic presidential primary race before conceding last month, has long fought for a government-run insurance plan, which he says would wrest healthcare coverage control from private insurers.
In his statement Tuesday, Sanders slammed insurers like Aetna for pulling out of the exchanges “despite the Affordable Care Act bringing them millions more paying customers than ever before.”
“These companies are more concerned with making huge profits than ensuring access to health care for all Americans,” he said.
Liberal Democrats have been increasingly vocal about the need for a public-option push next year, with growing hopes that Clinton will win the White House and Democrats will take back the Senate.
Sanders is hoping to become chairman of the powerful Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which would give him a high position in a potential healthcare fight.
Still, the battle would be taxing for a Democratic Party that has painful memories about the struggle for ObamaCare in 2009 and 2010. The fight over the law — which passed without any Republican support — was a crucial factor in the GOP wave that consumed the 2010 election cycle, costing Democrats their majority in the House.
Though Clinton has affirmed support for a government-run insurance option, only one Democrat running for an open or contested Senate seat this fall — Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) — is pushing it on the campaign trail.
“Any public option would be a hard sell,” said Gabriel Perna, managing editor of the publication Physicians Practice. “It would be like 2009 all over again. It’s probably a pipe dream.”
— This story was updated at 6:25 p.m.