Liberal Dems lay groundwork to push 'Medicare for all'

Liberal Dems lay groundwork to push 'Medicare for all'
© Greg Nash

Democrats are laying the groundwork to make a push for “Medicare for all” legislation if they win back the House in November.

More than 60 House Democrats launched a Medicare for All Congressional Caucus this month, a sign of the popularity surrounding the concept of a government-run health insurance system for everyone that’s supported by liberal firebrands like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The caucus plans to hold briefings with experts as part of its efforts to revise a previous bill that will act as the framework for future legislation to establish single-payer national health insurance.

“We're going to do what it takes to get health care for every American,” said Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellDems grill EPA chief over auto emissions rollback plan Bipartisan group asks DHS, ICE to halt deportations of Iraqi nationals Dem gun efforts run into Senate GOP bulwark MORE (D-Mich.), co-chairwoman of the new caucus.

When asked if she wanted the House to vote on a "Medicare for all" bill next year if Democrats control the chamber, Dingell said, “Yes, we're going to travel the country talking about why it makes a difference.”

Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDivided Dems look to regroup On The Money — Presented by Job Creators Network — GOP senators urge Trump not to nominate Cain | Treasury expected to miss Dem deadline on Trump tax returns | Party divisions force Dems to scrap budget vote | House passes IRS reform bill Left-center divide forces Dems to scrap budget vote MORE (Ky.), the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, said he plans to hold hearings on how to pay for the coverage next year if he ends up wielding the chairman’s gavel.

While a government-run health insurance system like the one being discussed by Democrats has no real chance of becoming law with President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report MORE in office, House action on the issue next year would move the ball forward and intensify the debate within the Democratic Party for 2020.

Democratic leaders have not endorsed that kind of drastic change to the American health-care system, but they haven’t ruled it out either.

House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Pelosi accuses Barr of 'single-minded effort' to protect Trump against Mueller report Dems attack Barr's credibility after report of White House briefings on Mueller findings MORE (Calif.) said last month that proposals like Medicare for all would “have to be evaluated in terms of the access that they give, the affordability of it and how we would pay for it.”

“But again, it's all on the table,” she added.

The Medicare for All Congressional Caucus held its first briefing at the end of June for about 50 staff members, with presentations from single-payer proponents such as Physicians for a National Health Program and the National Nurses United union.

Leaders of the caucus are planning to revise a single-payer bill introduced in January 2017 by former Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersMembers spar over sexual harassment training deadline Reparations bill wins new momentum in Congress Overnight Health Care: Pelosi asks how to pay for single-payer | Liberal groups want Dems to go bigger on drug prices | Surprise medical bill legislation could come soon MORE Jr. (D-Mich.). The measure has 123 Democratic co-sponsors.

“The idea would be to introduce something that has a little bit more detail and is an actual legislative path,” said Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOvernight Health Care: How 2020 Dems want to overhaul health care | Brooklyn parents sue over measles vaccination mandate | Measles outbreak nears record Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Dems counter portrait of discord MORE (D-Wash.), another co-chairwoman of the caucus.

“Depending on how many people campaigned on it, which I think is going to be a majority of our caucus, you might see a bill,” Yarmuth said.

But some Democrats worry that Medicare for all would be too costly.

“It opens us to many questions from Republicans about costs,” said Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettLobbying World Treasury to miss Dem deadline for Trump tax returns Overnight Health Care: Oversight Republicans accuse Dems of partisan drug pricing probe | Democrats struggle to unite behind drug price plan | CDC investigating E. coli outbreak MORE (D-Texas).

A study published Monday by the right-leaning Mercatus Center at George Mason University said a Medicare for all plan would increase government health-care spending by $32 trillion over 10 years.

“It is just absurd,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty MORE (R-Wis.) tweeted about the price tag.

Supporters hit back by saying the study found total national health care spending would decrease; it's just that the government’s share of that spending would grow significantly under Medicare for all.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group House Democrats probe Trump administration's funding of anti-abortion group Overnight Energy: Bernhardt confirmed as Interior chief | Dems probing if EPA officials broke ethics rules | Senators offer bipartisan carbon capture bill MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, did not rule out Medicare for all but made clear his focus would be on protecting ObamaCare against GOP attacks if he becomes chairman next year.

“We can certainly talk about single payer or Medicare for all, but I just think the most important thing is to shore up what we have and turn around this sabotage,” Pallone said.

“I'm not going to prejudge what we would have hearings on,” Pallone said when asked about whether he would hold hearings on Medicare for all.

Pelosi has also pivoted to touting the benefits of ObamaCare when asked about Medicare for all.

“I think she kind of wants to let everybody do their own thing,” Yarmuth said, adding that by not backing Medicare for all, Pelosi doesn’t “tie [lawmakers] to a position.”

If the measure did make it through the House, it would have more than a dozen supporters in the Senate, where Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group Ex-Obama campaign manager: Sanders can't beat Trump Booker calls for sweeping voting rights reforms MORE's (I-Vt.) Medicare for all bill has 16 co-sponsors, including several potential Democratic presidential candidates.

Adam Green, co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said that if Democrats win back the House, his organization will push for a series of health care votes on legislation addressing single-payer and somewhat less drastic ideas like a public option.

“Often Democratic leadership follows the lead of their caucus and an incoming class of election winners,” Green said.

“That’s why it’s so significant that progressives have been winning primaries,” he added.

Ocasio-Cortez, who unexpectedly defeated Rep. Joseph Crowley (D) in last month’s New York primary, is a big proponent of Medicare for all.

If the Energy and Commerce Committee does not move forward on hearings, the Budget Committee under Yarmuth could still hold hearings to examine the potential fiscal impact of the legislation.

Yarmuth said a hearing could examine “whether it was feasible or not, whether it would kill the budget, whether it would help it, and what the impact would be.”