‘Medicare for All’ Measure Puts Centrist Democrats in Quandary

  • Tack to left has some demurring on whether they’ll sign on
  • Concern about avoiding health policy divisions in party

Centrist Democrats are treading carefully around the latest “Medicare for All” bill, trying not to expand divisions in their party and wary of putting their names to the measure.

A group of House Democrats led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) unveiled one of the most-ambitious efforts to overhaul the country’s health system and replace it with one where the federal government pays for nearly all care services.

Under the bill (H.R. 1384), every American would get health care for life that includes a wide breadth of services and the federal government would be granted new powers to negotiate the prices of medicines and dictate what doctors and hospitals are paid.

Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Supporters of a single-payer health-care system that would expand Medicare coverage to all Americans hold signs promoting the policy idea.

It’s an expansion on previous versions introduced in the House and the changes left more than a dozen lawmakers who signed onto last year’s “Medicare for All” up in the air about whether they’d support the new measure. The bill premiered with 107 co-sponsors, fewer than the 124 it gained last year under the slimmed-down version.

“I support the concept but I need to look at it,” Rep. Jose Luis Correa (D-Calif.) said. “Whenever you’re moving in any direction for a big public policy, the details are what are most important.”

No Favorites

Some previous supporters have joined House leadership and say they won’t sponsor the bill out of fear of playing favorites.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said as head of the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee she doesn’t want to endorse any major health fixes that might come before her panel.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said he’s getting “views on the best pathway toward proceeding” and wants to keep his rank and file united on their health agenda.

“It’s clear to me what unites Democrats is protecting people with pre-existing conditions, strengthening the Affordable Care Act and working to lower the high cost of prescription drugs,” he said.

Long-Term Care

Jayapal’s bill would cover more services, including expensive long-term care such as nursing home services, and end the vast majority of private and employer-sponsored health insurance in just two years, half the time Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) would allow in a similar proposal. It would also mean the majority of hospitals and doctors would get lump sum payments for services rather than getting paid per-service, a massive change from the current system.

Some of these details have attracted new supporters: Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) signed on because the new bill would repeal the federal prohibition on public funds for abortion services.

The legislation has earned the support of a wide range of progressive activists and organizing groups, among them: National Nurses United, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, Physicians for a National Health Program, Social Security Works, Center for Popular Democracy, and Public Citizen. However, it has also raised the ire of major health industry lobbies such as the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Jonathan Nicholson at jnicholson@bgov.com