Single-Payer Health Care Is Seeing Record Support in Congress

by Michael Corcoran –

The primary Medicare for All bill has more support in Congress now than it has ever before.

John Conyers’ Medicare for All bill (HR 676), which he has introduced in each Congress since 2003, has seen a recent surge of new cosponsors — 32 since March 8 and nine on April 3 alone. As of this writing there are 93 co-signers (and counting), representing more than 48 percent of the Democratic Caucus. This is the highest number of cosponsors ever, both in terms of members and as a percentage of the House Democratic Caucus. The count is up from just 62 cosigners — 33 percent of Democrats — in the last Congress, and an average of 37 percent since the bill was first introduced in 2003 (see chart).

(Credit: PNHP)This is an astonishing development for many reasons. Just a year ago the Democratic establishment was recklessly (and disingenuouslymaligning the policy to help keep Sen. Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic Primary. Further, facing a large GOP majority, Democrats and activists have also been forced to “play defense” just to prevent Donald Trump and the GOP from kicking 24 million Americans off their insurance and doing away with essential benefits like mental health and emergency room visits. These, of course, are important benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which improved access to health insurance, but leaves about 30 million Americans uninsured. The ACA also can’t control rapidly escalating health costs, a trend which has long been a central problem of our health system.

Indeed, the need for reform beyond the ACA is becoming increasingly clear. A Monmouth poll from February showed that 25 percent of Americans view health care as “the biggest concern facing their family right now.” Health care was, by far, the most cited concern, dwarfing issues like immigration (3 percent) and terrorism (2 percent).

Public support for Medicare for All has been confirmed by pollsters for years. An April 6 poll from the Economist/YouGov showed 60 percent of the public support for the policy, including from a plurality of Republicans.

The latest increase in support for Medicare for All, according to advocates, activists and congressional staffers who spoke with Truthout, can also be attributed to several other factors, including the unintended consequences of the TrumpCare debacle and the work of activists pressuring Democrats from the left. The impactful rise of Bernie Sanders, who plans on introducing his own Medicare for All bill in the Senate, has also been key. Plus, the end of Hillary Clinton’s campaign (and her role as the de facto head of the party), has led to more support for single payer, since she ran against the policy with such militancy — and lost.

There is still a long way to go. Republicans have an iron grip on Congress. The Senate is, by design, a major obstacle to progress and democracy. Plus, the drug and insurance industries retain immense influence. But the growing momentum for this reform has organizers hopeful that we are at a turning point — that a public universal healthcare system in the US may not be as far off as it once seemed. “I have been introducing the Medicare for All bill every session of Congress since 2003, and I’m the longest serving member of Congress,” Conyers said in a statement. “I have never seen more enthusiasm and energy behind this issue than what I’m seeing today.”

The Role of HR 676 in the Battle for Health Care Justice 

It has been 14 years since Conyers first introduced HR 676, officially called the Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act. The language is simple enough. “This bill establishes the Medicare for All Program to provide all individuals residing in the United States and U.S. territories with free health care that includes all medically necessary care,” and “only public or nonprofit institutions may participate.”

In a global context, this is not a particularly radical idea. Similar systems exist all around the developed world — they cover everyone and do it at about half the cost. While Conyers’ bill has never been scored by the CBO [Congressional Budget Office], there have been many studies that show tremendous savings from HR 676 and single-payer health care in general. Support for the bill, however, was quite limited, especially at first. Only 38 House Democrats (18 percent) cosponsored it when it was introduced. Eventually it gained more supporters, peaking at 93 in 2010 but this was back when Democrats had just won large majorities in 2006 and 93 sponsors only represented 42 percent of the caucus.

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Reprinted with permission from Truthout