Democrats are laying the groundwork to make a push for “Medicare for All” legislation if they win back the House in November.
More than 60 House Democrats launched a Medicare for All caucus this month, a sign of the popularity surrounding the concept of a government-run health insurance system for all that’s supported by liberal firebrands like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The caucus plans to hold briefings with experts as part of its efforts to revise a previous bill that will act as the framework for future legislation to establish single-payer national health insurance.
“We’re going to do what it takes to get health care for every American,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), one of the co-chairs of the new caucus.
When asked if she wanted the House to vote on a Medicare for All bill next year if Democrats control the chamber, Dingell said, “Yes, we’re going to travel the country talking about why it makes a difference.”
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, said he plans to hold hearings on how to pay for Medicare for All next year if he ends up wielding the chairman’s gavel.
While a government-run health insurance system like the one being discussed by Democrats has no real chance of becoming law with President Trump in office, House action on the issue next year would move the ball forward and intensify the debate within the Democratic Party for 2020.
Democratic leaders have not endorsed that kind of drastic change to the American health-care system, but they haven’t ruled it out either.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said last month that proposals like Medicare for All would “have to be evaluated in terms of the access that they give, the affordability of it and how we would pay for it.”
“But again, it’s all on the table,” she added.
The Medicare for All caucus held its first briefing at the end of June for about 50 staff members, with presentations from single-payer proponents like Physicians for a National Health Program and the National Nurses United union.
Leaders of the caucus are planning to revise a single-payer bill in January 2017 by former Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). The measure has 123 Democratic cosponsors.
“The idea would be to introduce something that has a little bit more detail and is an actual legislative path,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), another co-chair of the caucus.
“Depending on how many people campaigned on it, which I think is going to be a majority of our caucus, you might see a bill,” Yarmuth said.
But some Democrats worry that Medicare for All would be too costly.
“It opens us to many questions from Republicans about costs,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).
A study published Monday by the right-leaning Mercatus Center at George Mason University said a Medicare for All plan would increase government health-care spending by $32 trillion over 10 years.
“It is just absurd,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) tweeted about the price tag.
Supporters hit back by saying the study found total national health care spending would decrease; it’s just that the government’s share of that spending would grow significantly under Medicare for All.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, did not rule out Medicare for All but made clear his focus would be on protecting ObamaCare against GOP attacks if he becomes chairman next year.
“We can certainly talk about single payer or Medicare for All, but I just think the most important thing is to shore up what we have and turn around this sabotage,” Pallone said.
“I’m not going to prejudge what we would have hearings on,” Pallone said when asked about whether he would hold hearings on Medicare for All.
Pelosi has also pivoted to touting the benefits of ObamaCare when asked about Medicare for All.
“I think she kind of wants to let everybody do their own thing,” Yarmuth said, adding that by not backing Medicare for All, Pelosi doesn’t “tie [lawmakers] to a position.”
If the measure did make it through the House, it would have more than a dozen supporters in the Senate, where Sen. Bernie Sanders‘s (I-Vt.) Medicare for All bill has 16 cosponsors, including several potential Democratic presidential candidates.
Adam Green, co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said that if Democrats win back the House, his organization will push for a series of health care votes on legislation addressing single-payer and somewhat less-drastic ideas like a public option.
“Often Democratic leadership follows the lead of their caucus and an incoming class of election winners,” Green said.
“That’s why it’s so significant that progressives have been winning primaries,” he added.
Ocasio-Cortez, who unexpectedly defeated Rep. Joe Crowley (D) in last month’s New York primary, is a big proponent of Medicare for All.
If the Energy and Commerce Committee does not move forward on hearings, the Budget Committee under Yarmuth could still hold hearings to examine the potential fiscal impact of the legislation.
Yarmuth said a hearing could examine “whether it was feasible or not, whether it would kill the budget, whether it would help it, and what the impact would be.”