With a last-ditch GOP effort to repeal and replace Obamacare apparently on the ropes, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke on Friday outlined a four-step plan that would lead to Medicare coverage for all Americans at an appearance before an audience of more than 400 students at the University of Texas.
Step one, said O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat seeking the Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, would be keeping the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Step two would be making it more sustainable by expanding Medicaid in states, like Texas, that refused to do so when Barack Obama was president.
“Call it Abbottcare. Call it Cruzcare. As long as it helps more Texans, it’s unimportant,” O’Rourke said at the noontime event sponsored by UT’s Tejas Club, a 92-year-old men’s social organization on campus.
Step three would be offering Medicare or Medicaid as a “public option” through the Affordable Care Act that people could choose to sign up with instead of with a private insurer.
Step four would be the eventual coverage of all Americans under Medicare along the lines of a single-payer plan being advocated by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
“If we could get to the last step tomorrow, I would take it in a second,” O’Rourke said in an interview after his appearance in the Student Activity Center auditorium. “It’s important to both be as idealistic and describe as accurately as you can the vision, the goal we want to get to, and then be pragmatic about what it’s going to take to get there.”
Under Sanders’ plan, in the first year, the Medicare eligibility age would be lowered to 55, in the second year to 45, the third year to 35 and, in the fourth year, to everyone.
In his remarks, O’Rourke warned that Republicans still had until the end of the month to repeal the Affordable Care Act through a process that only requires them to muster 50 votes, with Vice President Mike Pence acting as tie-breaker.
O’Rourke said the latest GOP attempt to repeal Obamacare “would decimate our health care system in this country and remove tens of millions of Americans from the health care rolls.”
Citing projections by the Center for American Progress, a leading liberal think tank, O’Rourke said the bill co-written by Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana would mean that “2.8 million of our fellow Texans would lose health care.”
“The economic impact of this is projected at 175,000 job losses in the state of Texas,” he said.
If Obamacare survives, O’Rourke said it is essential that states like Texas, that refused to expand Medicaid, do so.
“I think, almost certainly, it was difficult for Republican leadership in some states, especially Texas, to take 100 percent of the help from the federal government when the federal government was led by President Obama,” he said. “Now that it is led by President Trump, if we want to call that Trump Medicaid expansion, then I’m down for it.”
Does he think that Republicans like Abbott might actually go along with Medicaid expansion by another name?
Yes, O’Rourke said: “I think if we are successful with this next week, then for the foreseeable future the Affordable Care Act will be the law of the land … and we have to make it work.”
Texas Tribune Festival
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is among more than 250 speakers appearing at the Texas Tribune Festival at the University of Texas, which began Friday and continues through Sunday.
American-Statesman Capitol Bureau reporters Jonathan Tilove and Julie Chang will be covering the festival. Follow their live coverage on statesman.com.