A new single-payer health system concept will have its first-ever set of congressional hearings in the new Democratic House, and a new draft of a so-called “Medicare for all” proposal could be released as soon as next week.
Washington state progressive Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who over the summer launched the Medicare for All Caucus, said the hearings, with the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), will start in the House Rules and Budget committees before moving on to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“My goal is that these are opportunities to make the case not to the American people—the American people already had the case made to them—but to members of Congress, to really put forward what the legislation looks like,” Jayapal said Thursday after the new Congress elected Pelosi to the speakership.
Pelosi spokesperson Henry Connelly confirmed the speaker supports holding the hearings, although Jayapal acknowledged House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) hasn’t yet committed his panel.
“But I have the speaker’s commitment that she will help me do this, and I’ve spoken to Frank Pallone and he is not opposed,” Jayapal said. “He just hasn’t said ‘yes’ yet.”
A Pallone spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Jayapal has not yet discussed possible hearings with the head of the other key health panel, Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) of the House Ways and Means Committee, but Neal said he is open to discussing the policy as one of the “many options that are out there” as part of holding his committee to regular order.
“That’s what committees are supposed to do, to flesh out alternatives,” Neal said.
Details of the bill, a draft of which Jayapal said should be available in the next couple of weeks, are under wraps but she said it does vary from the legislation introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2017. Sanders catapulted talk of “Medicare for all” to the fore during his 2016 presidential bid and key Democratic senators have signed on to his policy since.
This is a different bill, Jayapal said. It’s largely the work of her staff and the staff of Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
This new momentum for single payer—an issue that sharply divides the party—comes as Democrats are focused on defending Obamacare and as insurers hold out hope for more funding to shore up the law and draw more people into the individual market.
House Democrats will formally intervene in the lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act following a Texas federal judge’s invalidation of the law—largely a political move around litigation that proved to help the Democrats in November’s elections.
In his first hearing announcement of the new Congress on Thursday, Pallone said his panel will focus on the lawsuit and its impacts. “This decision, if it is upheld, will endanger the lives of millions of Americans who could lose their health coverage,” the release from the Energy and Commerce Committee said. “It would also allow insurance companies to once again discriminate against more than 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions.”
Judge Reed O’Connor, the Texas judge presiding over the case, ordered that the law is to remain in place as the lawsuit winds its way through the courts on appeal. It is headed next to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana.
The lawsuit was a political winner for Democrats in their campaign to reclaim the House in November, denouncing the GOP state attorneys general who filed the lawsuit and the Trump administration, which sided with the plaintiffs and refused to defend the ACA.