By Peter Sullivan
The Hill, January 3, 2019
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supports holding hearings on “Medicare for all,” her spokesman said Thursday, marking a major step forward for supporters of a single-payer health system.
Some Democrats have been talking about holding hearings on the issue, but Pelosi’s backing is seen as a boost for those efforts.
Pelosi had said last year only that Medicare for all would “have to be evaluated” and is “on the table.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the main sponsor of Medicare for all in the House, said Thursday that hearings would likely start in the Rules and Budget committees.
That would leave out the main committees with jurisdiction over the issue: Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means. The chairmen of those committees have not given their backing to Medicare for all, while the chairmen of Rules and Budget have.
Jayapal has been working to update the Medicare for all legislation and said Thursday she hopes to have draft text available “in the next week or two.”
She said she is hoping to eventually have hearings in the Energy and Commerce Committee, and has spoken to its chairman, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), but that he has yet to give a commitment to hold hearings.
“He hasn’t committed that to me but I have the Speaker’s commitment that she will help me to do this,” Jayapal said. “And I spoke to Pallone and Pallone is not opposed, he just hasn’t said yes yet.”
Pallone threw cold water on the idea in November, but that was before Pelosi’s support for hearings.
“I’ve always been an advocate for Medicare for all or single-payer, but I just don’t think that the votes would be there for that, so I think our priority has to be stabilizing the Affordable Care Act, preventing the sabotage that the Trump administration has initiated,” Pallone said in November.
Jayapal said that the bill she is working on will not spell out how the measure would be paid for or which taxes will increase.
“This is really going to be a bill on what the system looks like,” she said.
Some lawmakers are awaiting the details of the new version.
Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) told The Hill in November that he was “hopeful” he could support the new version if issues with last year’s bill were worked out.
(In an 11/30/18 article in The Hill, Kennedy said that the bill needs more vetting and detail, but that he “absolutely” supports the idea of single-payer health insurance, which has the government provide health insurance for everyone. “There’s no doubt that our country needs to continue this progress towards making sure that everybody gets access to health care that you need, when you need it, at a price you can afford,” he said. “That has been something that’s one of the big driving motivators for me in my work here, it’s been something that obviously members of my family have been working on for a very long time.”)
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the chairman of the Budget Committee, said last year that he planned to hold hearings on Medicare for all.
“Chairman Yarmuth plans to hold a hearing this Congress on the various approaches to expanding coverage and making health care more affordable, which would include different Medicare for All options,” spokesman Sam Lau said Thursday.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the Ways and Means chairman, has been more open to the idea, saying in December that Medicare for all deserved “a conversation.”
Democrats, however, face pressure from their left wing on the issue, not only from Jayapal but from a class of new members including incoming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
By Don McCanne, M.D.
The political process is evolving as it should. Every seat in the House was open for the midterm election, and the voters placed control of the House in the hands of a majority that supports comprehensive health reform, with many supporting specifically Medicare for All. It is entirely appropriate for the House to now initiate hearings on Medicare for All. Many voters and certainly several members of Congress would like to have more details on what Single Payer Medicare for All would look like and how it would work. The hearings thus can serve an important role in educating Congress and the public at large.
Since President Trump and the majority in the Senate state that they oppose Medicare for All, it is unrealistic to expect that such a program could be enacted in this session of Congress. But the next election is less than two years away and that is a very short time to inform and mobilize the political forces that would be essential for enabling enactment of Medicare for All.
The hearings will be part of the process, but it is important that we continue with our other advocacy activities as well. Special targets should include politicians who do not yet seem to understand why single payer is an imperative, and politicians who profess to be advocates but who could be swayed to support detrimental reform policies in a perversion of the process of political compromise. We need to continue to work with politicians who are already fully on board, but we should also continue our efforts to educate those who say they are opposed, if, for no other reason, they might accept defeat more readily were they to understand the clear social benefit of Medicare for All. Also we cannot let up in the least in our efforts to educate the public at large. Grassroots efforts will continue to be an essential component of the reform effort.
As a 501(c)(3) organization, PNHP does not support any individual politician or political party. We encourage all politicians, regardless of political affiliation, to learn about and support a single payer national health program, an improved Medicare for all, that would ensure comprehensive, affordable health care for everyone.
Stay informed! Visit www.pnhp.org/qotd to sign up for daily email updates.