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House Rules Committee holds first Medicare for all hearing

Written by Diane Archer

On Tuesday, April 3o, the US House of Representatives House Rules Committee held the first ever Congressional hearing on Medicare for all. The panel of speakers spoke largely to the costs of Medicare for all, though two speakers Ady Barkan, an advocate with ALS, and Farzon Nahvi, MD, an emergency medicine physician, addressed the critical need to overhaul our broken health care system and improve people’s access to care.

Barkan explained how hard it is to afford needed care and how he had to resort to a gofundme campaign to pay for his $9,000 a month home care he needs that his insurance does not cover. He also has had to battle his insurer to pay for care it should be covering. In his words, “We [Our family] have so little time left together, and yet our system forces us to waste it dealing with bills and bureaucracy. That is why I am here today, urging you to build a more rational, fair, efficient, and effective system. I am here today to urge you to enact Medicare-for-all.”

Nahvi told the committee how many of his patients choose to leave the hospital “AMA” against medical advice because of the costs. They put their health and lives in jeopardy rather than put themselves and their families in tremendous debt.

Dean Baker, a health economist and co-founder for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said that Medicare for all is both affordable and achievable. He spoke to the need for strengthening traditional Medicare as soon as possible so that it is on a level playing field with Medicare Advantage. Like Medicare Advantage, commercial health plans that contract with the government to deliver Medicare benefits, it should have a limit on out-of-pocket costs. Also, like Medicare Advantage, the prescription drug benefit should be included in the traditional Medicare package of benefits, in order to rein in costs and save people the effort of having to buy separate prescription drug insurance.

Baker also explained that Medicare Advantage plans “upcode” the health status of their members as a way to get paid tens of billions more a year, about 13 percent, than they are due from the federal government. That needs to end to save taxpayers money.

I submitted a letter to the Rules Committee that picked up on Baker’s points. It also lays out a number of ways that Medicare Advantage plans are threatening the health and safety of their members, according to government and independent researcher studies. You can read my written testimony here.

Congresswoman Shalala, suggested that if we ever were to get to Medicare for All, it could be Medicare Advantage for All. Since the hearing did not cover the obstacles to building a high quality health care system with Medicare Advantage plans, it was not clear whether she was aware of them.

Congressman Neal, who chairs the House Budget Committee, said his Committee would be holding another hearing on Medicare for all shortly.

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