Top Democrats hesitate again on Medicare for All

Progressive Democrats cheered when House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal agreed to hold a hearing on universal health care coverage.

But Neal opened the historic hearing Wednesday by praising the Affordable Care Act — and also raised concerns about sweeping overhaul proposals such as “Medicare for All.”

Medicare for All and other bills to broaden the government’s role in health care are enjoying unprecedented attention as progressive Democrats flex their new influence in the House and on the presidential campaign trail. Wednesday’s hearing was the third — but so far, the most consequential — on the topic. The rules and budget committees, which do not have jurisdiction over health care, also held hearings in recent months.

But the party’s top leaders remain lukewarm about Medicare for All, at best. While they acknowledge Obamacare has not achieved all its goals of increasing coverage and lowering costs, they are focusing on strengthening the landmark health reform law and reversing the steps President Donald Trump has taken to dismantle it.

Neal said Wednesday that he was proud to have been among those who developed the Affordable Care Act, while noting that broadening coverage further is “a complicated undertaking.” In particular, he cited the importance of hospitals — which have been staunch opponents of government-run health care — to lawmakers’ communities.

“Many of us have hospitals in our districts that are among the largest employers in our state or region,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “In particular, I think about how universal coverage could affect rural communities in states that may not have expanded Medicaid.”

Several committee Democrats, however, were much more enthusiastic about universal coverage. Some joined their fellow Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Debbie Dingell of Michigan, who introduced the House version of Medicare for All earlier this year, at a rally outside the House on Wednesday afternoon.

“We are making tremendous progress,” Jayapal said, noting the bill now has 113 co-sponsors, as well as support from economists and business leaders.

Republicans at the Ways and Means Committee hearing, however, repeatedly brought up Medicare for All’s $32 trillion price tag, as well as the fact that private health insurance would essentially disappear. They said Americans would face delays in receiving care, citing waiting times in other countries with government-run systems.

“It gives Washington politicians unlimited control over your health care,” said ranking member Rep. Kevin Bray of Texas. “It cancels good, quality health care plans for millions of workers, children and the elderly. And it’s so costly — trillions of dollars — it will bankrupt America.”

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