House Democrats formally announced the formation of the Medicare for All caucus on Thursday, and were joined by representatives from various progressive groups — like National Nurses United, Social Security Works, and Center for Popular Democracy — who helped save Obamacare last summer and now demand more than the status quo. So far 66 members, or one-third of House Democrats, have joined the caucus led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (WA), Debbie Dingell (MI), and Keith Ellison (MN).
“Health care is a human right,” said Jayapal, adding Congress should “use a system that already exists.”
The caucus defines Medicare for All as creating a single government-run health care system, using and improving the Medicare we know today. The announcement comes as Democrats are pushing to regain control of Congress this November. The point of the caucus is to prepare for an eventual shift in leadership, learning from Republicans who readied Obamacare repeal.
“Medicare for All means moving to a single-payer system like those in Canada, Australia, and most European countries, not building on our existing, complicated mix of public and private employer-sponsored plans,” said a spokesman for Ellison.
“With record support in the caucus, and more joining every day, everyone is beginning to understand this is inevitable,” he told ThinkProgress. “We’re forming this caucus now to hammer out the details and have a blueprint ready to go when we take back the majority.”
Historically, when people called for Medicare for All, they meant single-payer health insurance, a national government-run health care program that replaces today’s patchwork of public and private insurance plans.
But now, that’s not always the case. And sometimes politicians, intentional or not, capitalize on the progressive platform. Take Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar, for example, who said he’d bring single-payer health care to the state. When pressed by the Intercept, he said he actually meant a Medicare expansion. And Democrats who are skeptical of single-payer are applying the popular phrase to other ideas that keep private plans around.
“Medicare for all is a deliberately ambiguous phrase, but in practice probably wouldn’t mean pushing everyone into a single-payer system,” Paul Krugman recently wrote in the New York Times. “Instead, it would mean allowing individuals and employers to buy into Medicare – basically a big public option. That’s really not radical at all.”
The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank that has a lot of clout on Capitol Hill, is advocating for a system similar to what Krugman described. (Editor’s note: ThinkProgress is an editorially-independent news site housed within CAP.)
Tim Higginbotham and Chris Middleman with Democratic Socialists of America pushed back against these plans, demanding centrists not water down or hijack the policy-turned-mantra.
The new Medicare for All caucus is returning to the idea of single-payer health insurance. The caucus is championing H.R. 676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act, of which Ellison is the main sponsor. The bill virtually eliminates all private, employer-based health plans and forces millions into a new government plan with no premiums or deductibles. The only spot for private insurers is to provide “supplemental insurance.”
Founding members will try to get more Democrats to join the caucus. H.R. 676 has roughly two-thirds of House Democrats sponsoring the bill, so the caucus will likely grow. The caucus will soon hold briefings to discuss how the government will pay for the health care of millions, as the 30-page bill doesn’t address this.
The truth of the matter is Medicare for All is popular. A March 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that six in ten people (59 percent) favor single-payer. Candidates are running on the idea — and winning. At this point, it’s not about getting the public on board. It’s about getting the support of Democratic leadership, and a Medicare for All caucus is well positioned to do this.
“We are in a battle for the heart and soul of this country,” Jennifer Epps-Addison, with the Center for Popular Democracy, told ThinkProgress. “We are in this moment where we should go for what we really want.”