A recent report suggests that the upcoming Medicare for All hearing in the House Rules Committee won’t actually feature any pro-Medicare for All voices.
Earlier this week, the House Rules Committee announced it would hold its first Medicare for All hearing on Tuesday, marking the first time single-payer healthcare has been seriously discussed in Congress for several decades. This comes after both the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee declined to hold hearings of their own on the proposal.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), chairman of the House Rules Committee, is one of the 106 original co-sponsors of the bill being discussed, which was introduced by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) and Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) in late February. The bill itself would replace the current for-profit health insurance model with a single-payer, government funded system in which all primary care, hospital visits, prescription drugs, and long-term care for seniors would be covered for all Americans.
In a statement posted to Twitter, McGovern called the hearing historic, as it is the first time Medicare for All in particular has ever been given a hearing in Congress.
“Republicans have spent the last decade in Congress trying to take healthcare away from people,” McGovern said in the video. “But this new Democratic majority is doing the opposite. We’re working to expand coverage.”
🚨#BREAKING: The Rules Committee just announced it will be holding an historic hearing on #MedicareforAll on April 30 at 10am EST as @HouseDemocrats continue working toward universal coverage for every single American. pic.twitter.com/9Yv5X4W1Al
— House Committee on Rules (@RulesDemocrats) April 23, 2019
HuffPost’s reports that of the four people Democrats selected to speak at the hearing, only one of them — Dr. Farzon Nahvi — is actually in favor of the policy. However, Nahvi’s testimony is expected to be limited to patient experience given his experience as an emergency room physician, meaning none of the four speakers are expected to testify about the merits of a Medicare for All system over the current system.
There is still confusion over who made the specific decision to block what is reportedly more than a dozen pro-Medicare for All speakers from testifying, though Wendell Primus — a healthcare advisor to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is rumored to have implemented strict criteria that speakers must first meet before being considered. According to HuffPost, Primus reportedly would not allow any speakers who were either the leader of a single-payer group, an “activist,” and/or had ever criticized the Affordable Care Act.
The specter of Primus’ influence worries single-payer advocates, given an Intercept report about Primus allegedly telling health insurance executives that House Democrats would remain their ally despite Medicare for All gaining traction with the party’s rank-and-file. According to his profile on the website for healthcare policy think tank AcademyHealth, Primus previously served in President Bill Clinton’s Department of Health and Human Services before working for Pelosi.
Primus also allegedly referred to the hearing as a “check the box and move on type of thing.”
Pelosi's top health care staffer, Wendell Primus, told a room of staffers recently that the upcoming Medicare for All hearing was a "check the box and move on type of thing."https://t.co/gxHkztVPN9
— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) April 25, 2019
Grit Post’s attempts to clarify the process of selecting speakers, and confirm whether or not any single-payer advocates were allowed to testify, were ultimately unsuccessful. When contacted, Rep. McGovern’s office passed the buck to House Rules Committee spokesman Jeff Gohringer, who initially referred to McGovern’s statement about the hearing posted to Twitter. When pressed for clarification, Gohringer provided a statement from Rep. McGovern that the chairman had “free rein” to select speakers for the hearing.
“We worked with Congresswoman Jayapal and Senator Sanders’ offices to ensure they were supportive of the Majority witnesses,” the statement read, “I am a cosponsor of this bill and I’m proud to convene the first-ever hearing on Medicare for All as Congress works toward universal coverage.”
Neither Sanders’ nor Jayapal’s staff have responded to Grit Post’s requests for comment as of this writing.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.