Remember Medicare for All in the healthcare reform debate

By Kay Tillow for the Hill Blog

We are in danger of losing the opportunity to bring Improved Medicare for All, a single payer plan, before the Congress. Last July Congressman Anthony Weiner and six of his colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee attempted to substitute the real public option—HR 676, a single payer plan—for the healthcare reform in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi assured them that if they withdrew the amendment in committee they would have an opportunity to bring it to the House floor for a debate and vote. Now Pelosi is threatening to keep the Weiner Single Payer Amendment from seeing the light of day.

If we were able to get this plan really on the table and before the nation in a meaningful way, we could win this hands down. Even Blue Dog Mike Ross, in an unguarded moment, asked why not just have Medicare for All. HR 676, the national single payer legislation introduced by Congressman John Conyers, would cover everyone for all medically necessary care through an Expanded and Improved Medicare for All. The bill and its advocates have been blocked, excluded, and beaten back in the current national healthcare reform debate.

Yet Medicare for All continues to raise its head. When single payer advocates were excluded from the White House kick off meeting for health care reform, doctors’ opened the door to two single payer advocates with a plan to protest at the White House gate. When Senate Finance Chair Baucus ruled single payer off the table, thirteen doctors, nurses, and others rose to protest. Baucus had them arrested. Those gutsy advocates pried open another door and won a round of publicity for single payer. But still not a place at the table.

Yet support for single payer continues to grow. Its simplicity, humanity, and economic efficiency win more supporters each day. The Kentucky House of Representatives, four other state legislative bodies, scores of cities and counties, a half dozen giant religious denominations, NOW, the NAACP, and the National Conference of Mayors have called for passage of HR 676. For unions, it’s the plan of choice. At each contract deadline the double digit rise in health care costs gobbles up the lion’s share of bargaining power. For that reason, 578 unions including 39 state AFL-CIO’s and 134 central labor councils have endorsed HR 676. In September the national AFL-CIO Convention declared unanimous support for single payer as the social insurance plan necessary to achieve social justice.

When Physicians for a National Health Program founder Quentin Young, testified before a House committee last June, Representative Weiner listened and was impressed. Weiner turned HR 676 into an amendment that would transform the House bill into a single payer plan. He popularized it as Medicare for All and catapulted the discussion into the national media with his feisty good humor and popular style.

Now Pelosi wants to renege on her promise to Weiner. We have sent an action alert to over 19,000 unionists asking them to contact Pelosi, and Waxman (who relayed Pelosi’s commitment publicly) and Slaughter (who heads the rules committee) to assure that they allow the Weiner amendment to come to the floor.

The “public option” that remains in both the Senate and the House bills is pitiful and powerless–totally incapable of providing cost control. Those bills, with their forced mandates and fines, their massive transfer of public funds to the insurance industry, and their ban on bulk buying power to rein in the pharmaceutical companies, will fail woefully to cover our people and to make that care affordable.

Pelosi should stick to her promise. We’ll keep up the effort to make her do so. Either now or later Medicare for All will have to come to the table. We’ll keep building the movement to make that happen.