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What to know about Pete Buttigieg's 'Medicare for All Who Want It' health-care plan

Democratic presidential candidate, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a presidential forum.
Zach Gibson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg's newly released health-care plan promises to expand coverage to uninsured Americans, lower costs and offer more choice in the health-care space. Just don't call it "Medicare for All."

Called "Medicare for All Who Want It," a riff on the plan proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, another Democratic presidential candidate, the policy would keep employer-sponsored insurance and private individual plans while creating a government plan, called a public option, that any American could join.

"Everyone should have the option of getting coverage through a public insurance alternative," Buttigieg's campaign said in a statement announcing the policy. "This way, if a private insurance plan from your employer or the marketplace isn't affordable, you can get a plan that is."

The uninsured, including low-income Americans living in states that did not expand Medicaid when the Affordable Care Act became law, would be automatically enrolled in the public option under Buttigieg's plan, while those with access to an employer's plan would also be able to join. He also calls for expanding who is eligible for governmental subsidies to buy health insurance.

With a public option available to Americans, the government and private insurers would effectively be competing for peoples' business, which would theoretically lower prices. The government's plan would cover all of the essential health benefits — 10 categories of care that all insurance plans must cover, including emergency services, hospitalization and maternity care — currently mandated by the ACA. In that way, Buttigieg's plan is more an expansion of the ACA than a whole new health-care system.

He also calls for an end to surprise billing, the practice of patients receiving care from a doctor or practitioner outside of their insurance network, often at a supposedly in-network facility.

This plan "will cost about $1.5 trillion over a decade, paid for by cost savings and corporate tax reform," Buttigieg writes in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

Critics on the left, particularly those in favor of a single-payer system, say this type of plan still favors private insurance companies. Others say it does not guarantee universal coverage. The Partnership for America's Health Care Future, a health-care industry advocacy group, opposes every Democratic plan with a public option, claiming it would limit consumers' health-care options. The government also typically negotiates lower rates for care than private insurers do, another reason the industry may be opposed.

How it differs from other candidates' plans

Buttigieg's plan is more moderate than that of fellow presidential candidates Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who support creating a single government option for all Americans. In Buttigieg's hybrid system, Americans would be able to keep their private insurance plans if they are satisfied with them, otherwise, "competition from this public alternative will naturally lead to Medicare for all," he wrote in the Post.

"Pete Buttigieg's plan goes well beyond the ACA in helping people pay for health care and restraining costs," Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote on Twitter. "It does not go as far as Medicare for all in eliminating premiums and deductibles or getting rid of private insurance. That's the debate among Democratic candidates."

Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democratic presidential candidate, proposed a health-care plan that would "transition every American into her version of a 'Medicare for All' system within 10 years," CNBC reported.

Buttigieg's plan is similar to former Vice President Joe Biden's, though Buttigieg acknowledges that his plan could lead to "Medicare for All," while Biden does not. The former vice president is also calling for the creation of a public option and more subsidies for those purchasing private insurance. He wants to cap premiums for individual health-care plans at 8.5% of an individual's income.

A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that "most Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would prefer to vote for a candidate who wants to build on the existing ACA in order to expand coverage and lower costs."

Don't miss: Would a 'Medicare for All' plan help you save money on your family's health-care costs? It's complicated

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