May 02, 2019

House Hearing Reveals Political Divide on Medicare for All

On April 30, the House Committee on Rules held what is expected to be the first of several House committee hearings on a universal, single-payer health care plan, colloquially known as “Medicare For All.”

The rules committee typically considers all bills that have been passed by other committees and determines whether and in what order to schedule their consideration on the House floor.

This hearing was held in response to political pressure from universal health care advocates and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. While focused on H.R. 1384, the “Medicare for All Act of 2019,” introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), this hearing was largely seen as the first step in starting the conversation about broad health care delivery system reform.

Witnesses included researchers Dean Baker, PhD of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Sara R. Collins, PhD of the Commonwealth Fund, Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute and Charles Blahous, PhD of the Mercatus Center.

Dr. Blahous notably authored a recent study finding Medicare for All would cost the federal government $32 trillion over 10 years. Also appearing as witnesses were Doris Browne, MD, MPH of the National Medical Association, Farzon Nahvi, MD of NYU Longone Health, and patient advocate Ady Barkan. Mr. Barkan, who is fighting ALS, is a notable champion of providing comprehensive care to all Americans, including the disabled.

The hearing largely fell along partisan lines, with Republicans expressing concern about the cost of the bill and the political feasibility of implementation, the impact Medicare for All would have on patient outcomes and wait times and the strain Medicare for All would put on the current Medicare system.

Although Rules Committee Democrats do not officially support Medicare for All, they were largely in agreement that health care is a right for all, and that health reform is necessary to protect patients from overwhelming out-of-pocket costs.

On May 1, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report in response to a letter from Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) requesting an analysis of how a Medicare For All-style system would increase government health care spending. CBO projects that a single-payer health care system would result in a “substantial” increase, but it did not assign a specific dollar amount to any proposals.

The House Budget Committee, one of many committees in the lower chamber with jurisdiction over this issue, is expected to hold a hearing on the CBO analysis and various Medicare expansion proposals later this month.

The American College of Radiology will continue to monitor this issue and provide updates to its members as warranted.