'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 WarrenDemocrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report We're at war and need wartime institutions to keep our economy producing what's necessary Larry David: Bernie Sanders should drop out of 2020 race MORE (I-Vt.) after a sustained campaign led by Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report Pelosi says House will review Senate coronavirus stimulus package Critical supplies shortage hampers hospitals, health providers 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The tone of Tuesday's hearing, which took place in a small, outdated committee room, underscored the balancing act facing Democratic leaders, who want to show they are taking progressives seriously while appeasing more moderate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 BidenSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report Sunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Trump defends firing of intel watchdog, calling him a 'disgrace' MORE and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg launches new PAC to aid down-ballot candidates HuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Economists fear slow pace of testing will prolong recession 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 HigginsOn The Money: Deficit spikes 25 percent through January | Mnuchin declines to say why Trump pulled Treasury nominee who oversaw Roger Stone case | Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts 'Medicare for All' backers notch win with high-profile hearing 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 DeLauroWork Share: How to help workers, businesses and states all at once Trump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees Stimulus price tag of .2T falls way short, some experts say MORE (Conn.) and Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyThe Memo: Virus crisis upends political world Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 5G rivals to Huawei | Amazon, eBay grilled over online counterfeits | Judge tosses Gabbard lawsuit against Google | GOP senator introduces bill banning TikTok on government devices Lawmakers grill Amazon, eBay executives over online counterfeits 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 WaldenOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Infrastructure bill gains new steam as coronavirus worsens Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns 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.