Republicans are pushing leaders of a key House committee to hold a hearing on Medicare for all, but the Democrats aren’t taking the bait. Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, ranking member of the Energy & Commerce Committee, and Texas Rep. Michael Burgess, the lead Republican on the health subcommittee, pressed in a letter this week and at a hearing Wednesday to publicly explore the proposal to create a national, government-run health insurance program.
Seeking to deflect criticism that they won’t protect Americans’ health care, Republicans are trying to bring attention to the growing popularity of — and divide over — Medicare for all among Democrats. The controversial idea seeks to expand affordable coverage, but carries a huge price tag and risks alienating those who want to keep their private insurance through their employers.
In a letter, they made their opposition clear. “Given the Committee’s broad health care jurisdiction, we have a responsibility to review any legislative proposal that is supported by so many members of the House majority, especially one that threatens to impact directly the lives of millions of Americans by upending how they receive their coverage, including those with employer and union sponsored plans,” they wrote.
The push got a chilly reception from committee Chair Frank Pallone of New Jersey and subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo of California.
“Who are you kidding?” Pallone said. “Oh sure, we’re going to have a hearing on something that you think will destroy the country.”
“Now don’t get me wrong, we will address that issue. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t,” he continued.
Eshoo took a similar position, deflecting questions about when Congress would begin exploring using Medicare as a vehicle for expanding health coverage.
“I hope at some point we will,” she told reporters, before saying that Democrats ran on lowering drug prices and strengthening the Affordable Care Act, which will take time.
Progressive Democrats, who feel they have a mandate after growing their membership in the midterm elections, are pushing leaders to advance Medicare for all legislation. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington plans to submit a new version in coming weeks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she supports holding a hearing, and Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth of Kentucky has asked the Congressional Budget Office for a report on the single payer concept, including how such a system would be administered and what role private insurers would play.
Meanwhile, Medicare for all has emerged as a litmus test for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, with some wholeheartedly endorsing the concept and others backing more moderate proposals, such as letting younger Americans buy into Medicare.