'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 PelosiYellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Tokyo Olympics kick off with 2020-style opening ceremony 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 NealTreasury starts monthly child tax credit payments Progressives ramp up Medicare expansion push in Congress Democrats propose new deadline in Trump tax returns fight 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 JayapalSchumer feels pressure from all sides on spending strategy Liberal House Democrats urge Schumer to stick to infrastructure ultimatum Democrats ramp up spending sales pitch MORE (D-Wash.) and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia US launches second Somalia strike in week 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 PalloneIntercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 House Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms 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 HoyerDemocrats warn leadership against excluding House from infrastructure talks Ethics panel upholds 0 mask fines against Greene, other GOP lawmakers Bipartisan antitrust leaders urge FTC to pursue Facebook case 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 unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe Democrats introduce bill seeking to protect voting rights of people in subsidized housing 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.”