April 29, 2019 | Updates

Democrats Versus “Medicare For All”


WASHINGTON – As the U.S. House Committee on Rules prepares to hold its hearing on recently introduced “Medicare for all” legislation, claims of momentum by the bill’s proponents are undermined by the loud and growing chorus of Democrats expressing grave concerns about the high costs and political risks associated with Medicare for all.  The Washington Post reports that many Democratic leaders are worried by such proposals, which “require middle class tax hikes that will prove hurtful for economic growth and the party’s political fortunes.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairwoman Rep. Cheri Bustos said to The Hill recently that “the $33 trillion price tag for Medicare for all is a little scary,” adding “it’s just hard to conceive how that would work,” a sentiment she later doubled down on in an interview with CNN.  The Washington Examiner notes that “Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, also has drawn attention to the cost” of Medicare for all.

Underscoring that point, President Barack Obama “warned a group of freshman House Democrats … about the costs associated with some liberal ideas popular in their ranks, encouraging members to look at price tags” in what was widely seen as “a cautionary note about Medicare-for-all,” The Washington Post reports.

And, most importantly for the House bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly made it clear she does not feel enthusiasm for scrapping our entire health care system – including the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid – and starting over from scratch with Medicare for all, saying“All I want is the goal of every American having access to health care … You don’t get there by dismantling the Affordable Care Act,” and exclaiming to Rolling Stone“And by the way, how’s it gonna be paid for?” 

Meanwhile, rank-and-file Democratic members who delivered the party its House majority are joining their leaders in supporting a path forward that does not include Medicare for all.  As the House Medicare for all bill was rolled out, “[k]ey players whose support would be vital to the success of Jayapal’s bill were muted, while a group of moderate House Democrats called for instead improving the Affordable Care Act and expanding existing private channels of health coverage,” The Washington Post reports.

The Hill reports that “[c]entrist Democrats who helped their party win back the House majority with victories in key swing districts last fall are sounding the alarm that the liberal push for ‘Medicare for all’ could haunt them as they try to defend their seats and keep control of the House.”

There’s good reason for this, of course – even beyond the high costs and massive disruptions to Americans’ coverage and care under a one-size-fits-all health care system.

A new national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that most Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents “say they want Democrats in Congress to focus their efforts on improving and protecting the ACA,” while previous national polling by Kaiser reveals that Americans don’t support Medicare for all once they understand what it would mean for them.

Earlier this year, Kaiser found that “net favorability [for Medicare for all] drops as low as -44 percentage points when people hear the argument that this would lead to delays in some people getting some medical tests and treatments. Net favorability is also negative if people hear it would threaten the current Medicare program (-28 percentage points), require most Americans to pay more in taxes (-23 percentage points), or eliminate private health insurance companies (-21 percentage points).”

At the ballot box last fall, very few winning candidates in the House seats that delivered Democrats the majority endorsed Medicare for all proposals.  “[A] majority of those [Democratic Members] who flipped their seats from red to blue focused on strengthening the 2010 health care law and protecting coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions,” Roll Call reports, noting the significant “risks for any politician that proposes dramatic change and uncertainty in a system that is central to Americans’ well-being.”

“None of the people that were able to win in tough districts in 2018 ran on Medicare-for-all, and the reason is that they can’t,” Matt Bennett of the centrist Democratic group Third Way explained to CNN.  “People in those districts don’t support it.”

As one Democratic strategist put it to The New York Times“Most of the freshmen who helped take back the House got elected on: ‘We’re going to protect your health insurance even if you have a pre-existing condition,’ not ‘We’re going to take this whole system and throw it out the window.’”

And, speaking to The Washington Post on Medicare for all and other costly proposals, Jim Manley who as a senior member of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) staff played a key role in passing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), warned that “Democrats have to be careful here: If they’re going to pay for these programs, the math suggests middle-class taxpayers are going to be hit … And that’s not what Democrats have traditionally stood for.”

The upshot of all this?  As The Washington Post reports, even as hearings are expected in the House Rules and Budget Committees, which do not traditionally have jurisdiction over health care legislation, “the major [House] health committees” like Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means “are staying away from the legislation and leadership hasn’t said they will hold a vote on it.”

In fact, The New York Times reports that “Ms. Pelosi cannot afford to put moderate freshmen in Trump-friendly districts on the spot by putting Medicare for all up to a vote.”



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