MIAMI, FLORIDA - JUNE 27: Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) Marianne Williamson, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, former tech executive Andrew Yang, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) take part in the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida.  A field of 20 Democratic presidential candidates was split into two groups of 10 for the first debate of the 2020 election, taking place over two nights at Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Health care to serve as litmus test for 2020 candidates
03:34 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Michael Bennet, one of two dozen Democrats vying for the 2020 presidential nomination, unveiled Friday a plan to improve rural health care.

At the core of the proposal is the Colorado senator’s Medicare X plan, which would establish a government-run public option on the Affordable Care Act individual and small businesses exchanges. It would offer coverage alongside the private insurance industry.

“The number one issue I hear about in living rooms and town halls is health care,” said Bennet, noting that more than one-third of US counties – most of them rural and small-town – had only one insurer on their exchange. “Rural communities face greater challenges as it is, where clinics are closing, the number of providers is decreasing, and there are higher rates of chronic disease.”

Bennet, who is lagging in the polls, is seeking to differentiate himself from more left-leaning candidates, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the father of “Medicare for All” and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who are far outpacing Bennet in polling. Under Medicare for All, the federal government would provide comprehensive coverage to all Americans, essentially eliminating private insurers.

“What this plan does not do is take health insurance away from 200 million people, like Medicare for All does,” the senator said.

Bennet, who has focused on rural issues in his decade in Congress, rolled out a Medicare X bill with Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, in April. It seeks to reduce Americans’ health care costs by providing more generous federal premium subsidies and expanding the number of people eligible for them. Also, it would boost the payment rates for rural doctors and hospitals by 25%.

He would also allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare and Medicare X, while penalizing drug makers who raise their prices faster than inflation.

Bennet’s plan would also harness technology to provide medical services in rural communities, where providers can be few and far between. He would enhance the use of telemedicine, where doctors could see patients via video chat, and remote patient monitoring to let providers better track their patients’ health status.

His proposal would provide up to $10,000 a year in loan forgiveness and repayment support for doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who work in rural areas. And it would invest $60 billion to combat substance abuse, including building more treatment centers.