Two years after the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly left an estimated 14.6 million Americans without employer-sponsored health insurance due to economic shutdowns and layoffs, the House Oversight Committee next week will hold the first hearing since the pandemic began on Medicare for All, with witnesses expected to testify on numerous ways the public health crisis has made the need for such a system clearer than ever.
Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) will be joined Tuesday by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) in leading the hearing, which will be the third congressional ever to focus on Medicare for All.
Several progressive lawmakers, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), are also members of the committee.
“It is more clear than ever that we need improved and expanded Medicare for All.”
Medicare for All advocate Ady Barkan, who suffers from ALS, is set to testify at the hearing, along with other witnesses including emergency physician Dr. Uché Blackstock and economist Jeffrey D. Sachs.
The hearing will focus partially on how universal healthcare coverage, with all types of medical care free at the point of service as it is in other wealthy nations, would help close health disparity gaps for people with disabilities, people of color, low-income and poor people, and other marginalized groups.
According to a report released just before the pandemic by Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), Hispanic and Black Americans have significantly higher uninsured rates, at 19% and 11%, respectively than white Americans, 8% of whom are uninsured.
Black Americans are also twice as likely as white people to die of diabetes, 22% more likely to die of heart disease, and 71% more likely to die of cervical cancer.
In the country’s healthcare system established for all veterans, though, Black men are significantly less likely to develop heart disease, while high-quality health coverage erases nearly half the racial disparities for women with breast cancer.
“This policy will save lives, I want to make that clear,” Bush told The Nation on Thursday. “I hope this hearing will be one more step forward in our commitment to ensuring everyone in this country, and particularly our Black, brown, and Indigenous communities, have the medical care they need to thrive.”
We deserve a health care system that prioritizes people over profits, humanity over greed, & compassion over exploitation.
That’s why we’re holding our first Medicare for All hearing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This policy will save lives.https://t.co/tF8JVm9BPm
— Congresswoman Cori Bush (@RepCori) March 24, 2022
In addition to showing how quickly a for-profit healthcare system—in which medical coverage is tied to employment for more than half the country—can leave millions without care, progressives have said since the pandemic began that the crisis demonstrated the need for Medicare for All in other ways.
As Common Dreams reported in 2020, for-profit health insurers have illegally hit Americans with surprise medical bills for Covid-19 testing and treatment, with some being billed for thousands of dollars for services advertised as free—and necessary for public health.
“Americans deserve a healthcare system that guarantees health and medical services to all. Congress must implement a system that prioritizes people over profits, humanity over greed, and compassion overexploitation,” Bush told The Nation.
The announcement of the hearing comes two weeks after House Democrats pulled $15.6 billion in pandemic response funding from an omnibus spending bill, a move that forced the federal government to end coverage of Covid-19 tests and treatment for uninsured Americans.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is moving ahead with a scheme to privatize the existing Medicare program, continuing an experiment first pushed by former Republican President Donald Trump.
In the Senate this week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced that he soon plans to reintroduce a Medicare for All proposal. Next week’s hearing will consider a shift to the Medicare for All proposal put forward in the House by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
Marking the twelfth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, Social Security Works executive director Alex Lawson said Wednesday, “It is more clear than ever that we need improved and expanded Medicare for All.”