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U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Buttigieg unveils health plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Thursday unveiled his plan to reform the U.S. healthcare system by offering everyone coverage under the federal Medicare program, but not forcing people to give up private heath insurance plans.

“For years, Washington politicians have allowed the pharmaceutical industry, giant insurance companies, and powerful hospital systems to profit off of people when they are at their sickest and most vulnerable,” said Buttigieg, who is mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

“My ‘Medicare for All Who Want It’ plan will create a health care system that puts power in the hands of each American.”

Democratic candidates vying for the chance to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election say universal healthcare is a top priority. But they disagree on the best way to achieve it.

Buttigieg’s proposal differs from the “Medicare for All” plan of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, which would provide coverage to everyone based on the federal Medicare program for Americans 65 and older and practically eliminate private insurance.

“It doesn’t force Americans off private plans they may want to keep, but offers them a meaningful public alternative,” Buttigieg’s campaign said in a statement.

The plan would spur private insurers to compete on price, the statement said, and if they “are not able to offer something dramatically better, this public plan will create a natural glide-path to Medicare for All.”

The statement said the plan would also expand subsidies for low-income people to pay health insurance premiums, cap premiums at 8.5% of income for everyone, and empower the federal government to challenge healthcare mergers that raise costs.

The statement did not refer to former President Barack Obama’s landmark 2010 Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, but said a Buttigieg administration would “reverse the Trump administration rules loosening restrictions on association health plans and short-term limited duration plans, which provide limited benefits and consumer protections.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has criticized Medicare for All plans as efforts to unravel Obamacare, is the front-runner in the field of 20 Democratic candidate. Among the rest, only Warren and Sanders have double-digit support in opinion polls.

Reporting by Tim Reid; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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