‘Profit has no place’: Lawmakers accelerate Medicare for All push
Progressive Democrats of America held a news conference to announce the launch of a Medicare for All Caucus at the Capitol on Thursday, July 19. | Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call via AP

WASHINGTON—With union backing, a group of 66 House Democrats—and counting—accelerated the congressional push for Medicare For All by forming a caucus to hold study sessions, answer colleagues’ questions, and issue papers on different aspects of the topic.

Backed by representatives of National Nurses United and with a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees/Teamsters in the crowd, Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Keith Ellison, DFL-Minn., Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis., unveiled the group at a sun-splashed press conference July 19 on the U.S. Capitol lawn.

The object of the caucus is to not only answer questions about single-payer government-run health care for everyone, but also to campaign for the legislation to create it, HR676 and a companion bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a leader of the Medicare for All caucus in Congress. | Andrew Harnik / AP

Those measures would replace the U.S.’s current, private jury-rigged high cost health care “system” with federally run health care, eliminating the health insurance industry and other for-profit aspects of health care. “Profit must have no place in health care,” Jayapal said.

That would save U.S. residents hundreds of millions of dollars yearly, while ensuring no one could not afford to go to a doctor for care, the lawmakers said. It would also save lives, declared Martese Chism, an RN at Chicago’s Stroger (Cook County General) Hospital.

“Too many patients die because they can’t afford the care they need,” she explained.

Medicare for All has been NNU’s cause. The union has gotten it through the California State Senate, but not the State Assembly. But NNU has also picked up support from at least 20 other unions along the way, plus an endorsement, at an executive council meeting, from the AFL-CIO.

Now, Chism said, it’s Congress’s turn. “For the first time ever, we have a congressional caucus committed to achieving Medicare For All. It is far past time for Congress to get its act together and fundamentally change our broken health care system.”

Chism explained that as an RN in a large public hospital, she sees the impact of the lack of health insurance, or the lack of ability to pay for health insurance or even basic medical care, in the flood of patients who enter Stroger’s doors.

“Our emergency rooms overflow with people who couldn’t afford care when they needed it,” she said. “And I worked for eight years in the dialysis unit, and I saw first-hand how many kidney patients ended up with renal failure because they couldn’t afford dialysis,” due to insurers’ denials of payment for care, high co-pays, or both. “This is a disgrace.”

Single-payer government-run health care will help end that problem by eliminating those costly middlemen, whose tab patients—or public hospitals such as Stroger—must foot, Jayapal said.

Citing university research findings, she said “by simplifying the health care system we would save $350 billion annually, and would save $200 billion more in unnecessary tests” doctors prescribe to avoid subsequent denials of payment, lawsuits, or both.

“We’re here to make sure health care is available to everybody, not just the wealthy.”

“If you live in America, you have the right to affordable, quality health care, period,” added Dingell. For her “this is personal,” as her husband, retired Rep. John Dingell Jr., D-Mich., helped push Medicare through Congress in 1965 and his father, Rep. John Dingell Sr., D-Mich., helped enact Social Security 30 years before that.

And Dingell, like Jayapal and the others, supports the Affordable Care Act, though Jayapal called it “only the first step” to Medicare For All.

Whether the Republican-run Congress will listen is another matter, no matter how much data the new caucus marshals for Medicare For All. It, and the GOP Trump administration, have spent their time voting against or administratively dismantling the ACA.

But Pocan, a Painter, noted lawmakers are already behind the public, with a Kaiser Foundation survey showing more than half of the population supporting Medicare For All. “If the people lead, eventually the leaders will follow,” he predicted.


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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.