Medicare for All ‘horror stories’ to be confronted in House hearing

Hostility to Medicare for All is "more about scaring people than getting facts or ensuring everybody can get affordable, quality health care," says.U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-MIchigan. (Photo: Andrew Roth, Michigan Advance)

WASHINGTON — A Democrat plans to use a U.S. House hearing on health care proposals Tuesday to clear up confusion on Medicare for All.

“The presidential candidates have confused a lot of people about what the issues are,” said Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell. “This hearing is about educating people about what we’re trying to do — to try do away with the horror stories that are more about scaring people than getting facts or ensuring everybody can get affordable, quality health care.” 

Dingell has not endorsed in the presidential race.

Under review at the hearing will be a proposal Dingell is helping to lead that would expand Medicare so it serves all U.S. residents, not just those 65 and older and certain younger people.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has staked his presidential campaigns on the issue and is the lead co-sponsor of the U.S. Senate version of Dingell’s bill. When asked about it, he often claims ownership of the issue with the applause line, “I wrote the damn bill!” 

When he served in the U.S.House, Sanders signed on to a different “Medicare for all” bill championed by another Michigan Democrat, the late U.S. Rep. John Conyers. The Vermont senator has since championed the cause in the Senate and on the presidential campaign trail — raising its profile to new heights. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren also has put the bill at the front and center of her campaign for the Democratic Party’s nod.

Sanders and Warren, along with Joe Biden, are each scheduled to address members of the Culinary 226 union in Las Vegas this week. The Culinary has not endorsed in the prsidential race, but Culinary leadership has made no secret of its skepticism of Medicare for All, complaining it could jeopardize generous private sector health care coverage the union has won from the resort industry.

Medicare for All has enjoyed majority public support, thanks to activists who have been advocating for it over the last several decades, said Benjamin Day, executive director of Healthcare-Now!, a grassroots advocacy group. 

But recent polling shows slippage on the issue. And some GOP strategists believe there’s an opening to siphon off suburban women, who were key to Democrats’ 2018 victories, with the arguments that Medicare for All will decrease their choices.

In the U.S. House, Rep. Pramila Jayapa (D-Wash.) who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is the lead sponsor of the Dingell-backed Medicare for all bill and the lawmaker whose name is often attached to the House version.

The U.S., one of the richest countries in the world, is the only industrialized nation lacking universal health care, Dingell notes.

In addition to Dingell’s bill, Tuesday’s hearing will review a half-dozen other measures that aim to achieve universal health care coverage. 

Ted Brown, a health care historian with the University of Rochester, calls growing support for the cause a “new climate” in the country. 

But with Republicans running the White House and U.S. Senate, none of the bills considered Tuesday are likely to become law in the immediate future, Pollitz said. “It’s part of a longer-term debate. No one thinks this is going to get enacted this Congress.”

“It takes a while sometimes to get things done,” Dingell said. “We’ve been working this a while. But you educate now, and you never say ‘never.’ You don’t stop fighting just because you think the odds are stacked against you.”

Allison Stevens
Allison Stevens is a Washington D.C. reporter for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes Nevada Current.