Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is fueling a debate among Democrats after making renewed calls for a public opinion in the U.S. health care system.
In an interview with CNN on Sunday, the senator said he supports a single-payer health care system that guarantees coverage for all U.S. citizens through a Medicare-like program – but that "we don't have the support in the Congress for that."
Instead, Democrats should focus on improving the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which includes "a public option available in every state in this country, which gives people a wide variety of options but makes sure there is competition in every community in this country," Sanders said.
What is a public option?
A public option generally refers to a government alternative to the health insurance plans offered in the private market. Advocates of this policy argue that it would generate competition in the health insurance industry and provide coverage for individuals who can't afford private insurance plans.
Critics of the public option contend that such plans would not offer sufficient coverage, or would promote unfair competition that coould lead to lower payouts for doctors and hospitals, according to The Annenberg Public Policy Center.
For many progressives, a public option doesn't go far enough.
Pursuing the public option would "delay the achievement of what we really need," Dr. Adam Gaffney, a pulmonary specialist at Harvard Medical School and board member of Physicians for a National Health Program, told ATTN:.
"The arguments against [a public option] is that there will still be uninsured people, it won't fix under-insurance because there will still be co-pays and deductibles," Gaffney said. "It's not going to deliver the real goods. Even if it's well-intentioned, it's simply not going to solve the grave, systematic problems that continue to plague the American health care system."
What progressives, including Sanders, ultimately want is a universal health care system that "promises Medicare for all," funded by the federal government.
"We should treat health care as a right, not as a commodity," Gaffney said. "Really the underlying argument is that a single-payer system, unlike a public option, would in fact realize the right to health care in America."
The debate over how to move forward on health care policy comes after the GOP plan to repeal and replace the ACA failed last week, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) abruptly pulling the American Health Care Act (AHCA) ahead of a House vote last Friday. President Donald Trump said he would be open to revisiting health care policy if the ACA "explodes" in a tweet on Saturday.