Progressives revive push for Medicare for All at House hearing
Progressive U.S. lawmakers, public health advocates, and universal healthcare campaigners testified Tuesday at the first congressional hearing on Medicare for All legislation since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Supporters of the Medicare for All Act of 2021—introduced last March by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)—shared stories of personal healthcare hardship as well as harrowing accounts of avoidable suffering endured by others who lack access to health coverage.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who co-chaired the House Oversight Committee hearing, said that “Americans deserve a healthcare system that guarantees health and medical services to all. Congress must implement a system that prioritizes people over profits, humanity over greed, and compassion over exploitation.”
Bush, a former Black Lives Matter organizer, continued:
The systemic racism perpetuating health inequities cannot be overstated—Black women are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth. We are more likely to have rates of asthma and cancer from generations living next to pollution centers. We are more likely to have foregone routine screenings and medical appointments for a real fear of having our pain dismissed.
“That’s why my colleagues and I are coming through in force for our first Medicare for All hearing since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she added. “This policy will save lives, I want to make that clear. I hope this hearing will be one more step forward in our commitment to ensuring everyone in this country, and particularly our Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, have the medical care they need to thrive.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) noted that the Covid-19 pandemic “exposed just how broken the healthcare system is in our country.”
“Millions of people across the country know that passing Medicare for All is long overdue,” she added. “In the richest country, our residents should not face financial ruin, continue to be sick, or even die, because they lack adequate coverage and care. We need Medicare for All now and we will not stop fighting until we have it. This hearing ignites the reality that we must act now.”
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) argued that “universal health coverage is not optional, it’s urgent.”
“Private health insurance is a crushing tax on working families and businesses,” he added. “Medicare for All would save an estimated 68,000 lives a year while reducing U.S. healthcare spending by billions of dollars. It’s good policy and the right thing to do.”
Although not present at Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who made universal healthcare a pillar of his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns—acknowledged in an email to supporters that “passing Medicare for All won’t be easy.”
“We are taking on the incredible wealth and power of the insurance companies, the drug companies, and an entire industry which puts profits before the well-being of the American people,” the democratic socialist said. “We are taking on an army of well-paid lobbyists and the politicians who receive their campaign contributions from the healthcare industry.”
“But we can win this struggle if we engage people in the political process in an unprecedented way,” Sanders asserted.
Public health providers and advocates joined lawmakers in making the case for Medicare for All at Tuesday’s hearing.
Ady Barkan, an attorney and activist who suffers from the neurodegenerative illness ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, called the U.S. for-profit healthcare system a “moral abomination.”
“Right now, around 30 million people in this country are uninsured, and even more get necessary care denied every year by their insurance companies,” he told the hearing. “We’re the richest nation in the history of the world, and yet Americans regularly go bankrupt from their medical bills and cut their pills in half because they can’t afford the cost of prescription drugs.”
“It reveals much about our country that we see spikes in cancer diagnoses in Americans age 65 when they become eligible for Medicare,” Barkan continued. “Too many go far too long without care because they cannot afford it. By securing Medicare for All, we can save thousands of lives and free mourning families from the lingering pain of asking themselves, what if we had caught this sooner?”
Dr. Uché Blackstock, an emergency room physician and founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, called the hearing “a key step toward addressing racial health inequities in our country.”
“This pandemic should have been a wake-up call to help us understand the urgency of identifying a path toward making universal healthcare a reality,” she said. “I have had a front-row seat to the tragic loss of Black and Brown life from Covid-19 and racism.”
Blackstock lamented that in the “separate and unequal” U.S. healthcare system, Covid-19 patients are “divided based on insurance and race.”
“This is the definition of systemic racism,” she asserted. “People who look like me are living this every day… Now is the time for us to protect our most vulnerable and underserved communities and identify a pathway to ensuring universal healthcare for all Americans.”