Bloomberg adds his own 'public option' to crowded field of healthcare plans

DETROIT, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg said on Thursday he would create a public option to provide health insurance coverage to Americans if elected, a plan his campaign called “politically practical” but which resembles those of other candidates in a crowded field.

There are 15 Democrats running for the party’s nomination to challenge President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election, and their respective stances on healthcare have been major points of contention early in the campaign.

Among the leading candidates, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have said their Medicare for All plans would lead to elimination of private health insurance in favor of government-run policies.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, have advocated for a public option, but would also give consumers the choice to keep their private insurers.

“The first step is to create a Medicare-like public option - health insurance that would be administered by the federal government but paid for by customer premiums,” Bloomberg’s campaign said in a two-page proposal, arguing it would increase competition to push down costs.

Bloomberg also would seek to cap out-of-network medical charges at 200% of Medicare rates, and work to ensure the government could negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, capping prices at 120% of “the average in other advanced nations.”

A senior policy advisor for Bloomberg told reporters that it would cost about $1.5 trillion over 10 years to create a public insurance option and expand income-based subsidies for people beyond those created by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

She added that the cost would come down to about $1 trillion through the cap on out-of-network charges, banning surprise medical bills, and negotiating drug costs.

The campaign said it was still working on a full cost analysis, and was relying on figures from third parties that had proposed similar ideas.

Bloomberg, 77, a billionaire and former New York City mayor, announced his intent to run for president last month.

In recent months, Warren’s momentum has slowed in the face of criticism from Biden, Buttigieg and other candidates that her Medicare for All plan, which would provide federal health insurance coverage for all Americans, is too expensive.

Warren has argued it is the only way to reduce healthcare costs and proposed a wealth tax on billionaires to help pay for her plan.

Moderate candidates, including Bloomberg, have expressed concern that such expansion of government programs will alienate voters in hotly contested states.

Reporting by Michael Martina Editing by Bill Berkrot