'Medicare for All' backers notch win with high-profile hearing

'Medicare for All' backers notch win with high-profile hearing
© Greg Nash

"Medicare for All" supporters scored a victory Tuesday with a long-awaited hearing in one of the House's most powerful committees, putting more focus on the health care proposal that has divided the field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

The Energy and Commerce Committee discussed the single-payer health plan backed by White House hopefuls Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sanders faces lingering questions about appeal to women voters Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Des Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sanders faces lingering questions about appeal to women voters MORE (I-Vt.) after a sustained campaign led by Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sanders says it's 'disappointing' he's not on campaign trail in Iowa Sanders announces Iowa campaign swing with AOC, Michael Moore MORE (D-Wash.), a co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and other members of the party's liberal wing.

Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), whose committee has primary jurisdiction over health care issues, included eight other bills that aim to achieve universal coverage as part of Tuesday's hearing, stealing some of Medicare for All's spotlight.

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Jayapal nonetheless touted the “historic” hearing as a success, even as polls show support for the proposal is waning.

“Our movement is alive and well,” she told The Hill on Tuesday. “We’re just continuing to bring more and more people on board, and we’ll have more hearings, but these are substantive discussions, which is what really excites me.”

Medicare for All previously received hearings in the Ways and Means, Education and Labor, and Budget committees.

The tone of Tuesday's hearing, which took place in a small, outdated committee room, underscored the balancing act facing Democratic leaders, who want to show they are taking progressives seriously while appeasing more moderate members who support other approaches to achieving universal health care.

It also showcased the debate in the party over how to reform a health care system where 27 million people are uninsured, even after the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) known as ObamaCare.

Pallone, an ally of Democratic leadership who is skeptical of Medicare for All, said the best way to cover everyone is by improving and expanding the ACA, former President Obama's signature legislative achievement.

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“I believe that we must continue to build on the success of the ACA until health care is truly a right for all Americans,” Pallone said during the hearing, adding that he believes the U.S. would be close to universal coverage today if ObamaCare had included a public option to compete with private insurers.

The public option, which was viewed as being too far left in 2010, is now endorsed by moderate Democrats like former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sanders faces lingering questions about appeal to women voters George Conway: Witness missing from impeachment trial is Trump MORE and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Candidates weighing using private jets to get to Iowa Biden nabs endorsement from Iowa Democrat in swing district MORE as a more pragmatic alternative to Medicare for All, a government-funded health care system that would provide coverage for everyone.

House Democrats have largely avoided attacking each other over Medicare for All, in part because the legislation is not expected to receive a floor vote.

Among the nine health care proposals debated Tuesday was a bill sponsored by Rep. Brian HigginsBrian Higgins'Medicare for All' backers notch win with high-profile hearing Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment On The Money: Sanders unveils plan to wipe .6T in student debt | How Sanders plan plays in rivalry with Warren | Treasury watchdog to probe delay of Harriet Tubman bills | Trump says Fed 'blew it' on rate decision MORE (D-N.Y.) that would let people age 50 and older buy Medicare plans while increasing insurance subsidies for ObamaCare plans.

Another measure, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroSome kids will spend Christmas in border cages On The Money: House approves Trump USMCA deal in bipartisan vote | Senate sends .4T spending bill to Trump's desk | Why budget watchdogs are howling over the spending deal House approves Trump's USMCA trade deal amid shadow of impeachment MORE (Conn.) and Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyHouse Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't Lawmaker calls for hearing into MLB cheating scandal Big Pharma looks to stem losses after trade deal defeat MORE (Ill.), would create a new health care system but preserve private insurance for those who want it.

“As we debate into the future on universal health care coverage, in my view, 'Medicare for America' is the best way forward in providing historic change,” DeLauro told the committee.

But Jayapal’s Medicare for All bill has the most co-sponsors — 119, more than half of the Democratic caucus — of the measures debated.

Republicans, meanwhile, opposed all of the Democratic proposals, arguing they would eventually lead to Medicare for All and eliminate private insurance.

“These plans ration care and deny life-saving treatments. Importing foreign heath care systems to the U.S. runs counter to our shared goal of expanding access to the latest cures and improving access to lifesaving therapies,” said Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Bipartisan lawmakers call for watchdog probe into government telecom office Conservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills MORE (R-Ore.), the committee's ranking member.

Republicans have been eager to use Medicare for All as a way to paint Democrats as moving too far left for the American public.

While support for Medicare for All is higher than it has been in previous years, recent polls show it has struggled to maintain its popularity. More voters support measures that would shore up the ACA and establish a public option.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll in November, 53 percent said they supported Medicare for All, compared to 56 percent who said the same in March. The same poll sound that 66 percent of respondents last month supported a public option.

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Medicare for All supporters have blamed that drop in support on a well-funded opposition campaign from a coalition of insurers, hospitals and other industry groups.

But the declining popularity could also be tied to the Democratic presidential debates, where White House hopefuls have fought, sometimes bitterly, over Medicare for All and its related costs.

Jayapal said she and other backers are working to shore up support, and she expects to have two more hearings in the House next year.