'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 PelosiHouse unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Al Green: 'We have the opportunity to punish' Trump with impeachment vote 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 NealFinish the work of building a renewable fuels industry Tlaib blasts Foreign Affairs Committee's anti-BDS bill as 'unconstitutional' Top Republican offers resolution following Trump tax return lawsuit 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 JayapalActivist: Exclusion of domestic workers from federal labor laws 'a legacy of slavery' How Trump suddenly brought Democrats together on a resolution condemning him House votes against striking Pelosi remarks from record MORE (D-Wash.) and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to call on 2020 Democrats to reject money from drug, health insurance industries The hidden connection between immigration and health care: Our long-term care crisis Harris tops Biden in California 2020 poll 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 PalloneNRC eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors Democratic chair: Medicare negotiating drug prices not moving before August Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid 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 HoyerThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal House to test Trump's veto pen on Saudi arms sales 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 ScanlonGOP leader, Ocasio-Cortez give boost to lawmaker pay hike Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage The Memo: Trump allies see impeachment push backfiring on Democrats 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.”