'Medicare for All' gets boost from first congressional hearing

'Medicare for All' gets boost from first congressional hearing
© Cameron Lancaster

Progressive Democrats scored a victory of sorts Tuesday when Congress held its first hearing on “Medicare for All,” the left’s ambitious proposal to reshape the American health care system.

Supporters of the legislation had been requesting a hearing for months, and the first public discussion was held in the House, albeit in the nontraditional setting of the Rules Committee, whose jurisdiction is not specific to health care.

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The small venue accommodated only a few dozen spectators, and just four reporters, for a meeting that was largely devoid of the fireworks or partisan bickering that often accompany debates about health care.

Instead, members of both parties mostly asked economists and policy experts about how the proposal would work and what it would cost.

The tame event was in many ways by design.


Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus Graham: Pelosi comment on Trump is 'most shameful, disgusting statement by any politician in modern history' The coronavirus pandemic versus the climate change emergency MORE (D-Calif.), who wants to keep the party focused on strengthening ObamaCare ahead of the 2020 elections, was seen as granting the hearing to satisfy the growing chorus of progressive groups and liberal lawmakers who demand Medicare for All be taken seriously by the party’s leadership.


But the measure faces low odds of getting a floor vote in the House. It’s also not clear if it will be considered by the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over health care issues.

Nevertheless, supporters said Tuesday’s hearing was a big step in legitimizing a proposal that has galvanized large swaths of the Democratic Party and garnered support from top-tier 2020 candidates.

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And they can now point to movement in other parts of the House: Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealDemocrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus Judge puts new hold on Democrats' lawsuit seeking Trump tax returns MA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state's protective equipment MORE (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which shares jurisdiction on health care issues, will soon hold a hearing on the proposal.

“This was the first step, it’s a big step, but we’re on our way,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the Rules Committee and a supporter of Medicare for All. “Medicare for All is possible. It is reasonable. It can move forward, and I think it should.”


The bills introduced Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalPelosi says House will review Senate coronavirus stimulus package Critical supplies shortage hampers hospitals, health providers Washington state lawmakers warn health workers running low on protective gear MORE (D-Wash.) and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersCoronavirus makes the campaign season treacherous for Joe Biden Biden could be picking the next president: VP choice more important than ever Democrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus MORE (I-Vt.) would replace the health care system, including private insurance, with a single plan run by the federal government. The two bills are co-sponsored by a total of 123 lawmakers.


“It is a serious debate and discussion on a real plan, a 125-page plan,” Jayapal, who sat through the seven-hour hearing, told reporters on Tuesday.

“Does it matter that it’s in [the Rules Committee] and not some other committee? In my mind, no, because we’re having the discussion.”

GOP panel members repeatedly pressed McGovern on why the Rules Committee, which is often controlled by the Speaker, was the one holding a Medicare for All hearing.


McGovern, who took over as head of the panel in January, responded by saying: “There’s a new sheriff in town. That’s why we’re doing the hearing.”

The location underscored the divisions the Democratic Party faces in how it plans to improve a system where 29 million Americans are uninsured, and millions more can’t afford their premiums, deductibles and prescription drugs.

House Democratic leaders have said the focus should be on strengthening the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), particularly amid the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle former President Obama’s signature domestic policy.


Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch MORE (D-N.J.) hasn’t committed to holding a hearing on Medicare for All, and has instead focused on bills that would strengthen the ACA.


House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House The Hill's 12:30 Report: House to vote on .2T stimulus after mad dash to Washington MORE (D-Md.) said the lower chamber plans to take up those measures in the coming weeks.

Many Democrats are wary of Medicare for All because it would eliminate private insurance, a multibillion-dollar industry that covers 67 percent of the population.


That fact has been seized on by Republicans who are looking to turn health care to their advantage in 2020, after the issue was used against them in the 2018 midterms that put Democrats in the House majority for the first time in eight years.

“I’m trying to parse the way forward from here to protect the Affordable Care Act and move toward whatever our next step is,” Rep. Mary Gay ScanlonMary Gay ScanlonHouse passes bill to expand TSA worker protections Trump commutes sentence of ex-Illinois Gov. Blagojevich in rash of clemency orders Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Buttigieg targets Warren, Sanders on health care ahead of debate | Judge overturns ObamaCare transgender protections | Poll sees support drop for 'Medicare for All' MORE (Pa.), a moderate Democrat from a suburban district, said during the hearing. “There are constituents in my district who believe Medicare for All is the best path forward, and there are others who are concerned about how it’s going to work.”


The hearing also included remarks from a witness who delivered emotional testimony about his struggles with private insurance companies as an ALS patient.

Ady Barkan said that while he has spoken for years about health care reform, Tuesday was the first time without his natural voice. His deteriorating condition means he needs to use a computer to amplify his voice.

“I needed Medicare for All yesterday; millions of people need it today,” he said. “The time to pass this law is now.”