Democrat Buttigieg unveils healthcare plan for rural Americans, tribes

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg waves as he arrives for the first night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg unveiled a healthcare plan on Friday to provide coverage to all rural Americans and Native American tribes, where mortality and illness rates are higher than in U.S. cities.

Buttigieg, 37, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is one of several Democratic candidates vying to be the presidential nominee who are making big efforts in rural America that swung heavily to Republican President Donald Trump when he won the White House in 2016.

Buttigieg wants to guarantee that all rural Americans obtain health insurance by offering them the option of government-backed Medicare coverage, in a bid to force private insurance companies to lower costs. It is something he calls a “Medicare For All Who Want It” plan.

This is a more moderate approach to healthcare coverage than some of his Democratic rivals, including progressive standard bearers and U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who want to transfer all Americans to government-funded health coverage, known as Medicare for All.

Buttigieg also wants to improve technology so more people can be treated from or near their homes, stop hospital closures, train and attract more doctors and nurses to rural areas and reduce care shortages with an emphasis on maternal care, primary care, mental health and addiction.

Buttigieg said he would also strengthen the Indian Health Service, a federal government department charged with providing medical and public health services to Native American tribes and Alaska Native people.

“It is time to usher in a new era for rural America,” Buttigieg said in a statement as the plan was released. “We need to lift rural communities up as places of opportunity, both for this generation and future ones. That work begins with securing the health of all rural residents.”

Buttigieg’s plan follows other proposals for rural America that include healthcare provisions including from Warren, Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand from New York and Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota.

They are among 24 Democrats vying to become the nominee to take on Trump in next November’s election.

Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Cynthia Osterman