House Panel Debates Path to Universal Health Care

WASHINGTON (CN) – Rebecca Wood’s daughter was born three months premature, required a feeding tube and has relied on Medicaid waivers for critical treatment most of her life. The patient advocate told lawmakers Wednesday her daughter would not have survived if Wood had not put off her own serious dental procedure for an infection that cost her parts of her jaw.

The procedures nearly bankrupted her family, the Massachusetts mother said at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on pathways to universal health coverage.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“I am lucky she survived. I’m fortunate she thrived. However, it shouldn’t cost me nearly everything,” Wood said Wednesday “My story is one of profound policy failure. Every other nation in the world recognizes that health care is a human right, it’s time the United States of America does as well.”

Wood’s story was the only patient testimony given during Wednesday’s hearing, but she was one of six speakers who debated the topic of universal health care.

Tricia Neuman, senior vice president and director of the Program on Medicare Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said nearly 30 million Americans are currently uninsured. She said there are various proposals floating around that would right the ship and provide health care to uninsured Americans—the most comprehensive being universal health care.

“The first and most far-reaching is ‘Medicare for all,’ an approach that would cover all U.S. residents, ultimately replacing the career-based coverage, limiting private insurance and ultimately incorporating Medicare and Medicaid,” Neuman said.

Dr. Donald Berwick, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, said Medicare for all would be a beneficial system to implement in the U.S., based on his experience administering medicine.

He said it would align with providing adequate care for patients, improving the overall population’s health, and reducing costs by eliminating waste. His remarks were met by applause from people in attendance.

“Worst of all, critics say it is unrealistic to make health care a human right in this country. I profoundly disagree,” Berwick told lawmakers. “It seems to me that a nation that is founded on an inalienable right to life, liberty and a pursuit of happiness ought to promise to its people those forms of social policy and cohesion including health care that make life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness possible.”

Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican and ranking member of the committee, said an issue with instituting a single-payer or blanket system for health care was the risk of removing coverage for millions of Americans.

He said nearly 600,000 constituents from his district alone will have their preferred private insurance “ripped out from under them” under a Medicare for all program. He also estimated the cost of Medicare for all would be $32 trillion.

“Those constituents of mine are frightened, they don’t trust this government to make the life or death decisions about their health care,” Brady said.

The Republican noted during his opening statement Wednesday that Congress had shut down three times in 2018, and Medicare for all would put the same people in charge of health care who could not agree on a budget.

“You have to wonder, if the federal government can’t even keep its doors open, can you really trust Washington with your life and death health care decisions?” Brady said.

Mike Kelly, R-Pa., talked about employer premiums and ways prices would change under a Medicare for all system.

Another panelist, Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, said employers would essentially be paying higher corporate taxes for public insurance.

Kelly said he believed Medicare for all meant quality care for none and began discussing the implications of the system when he was interrupted by an audience member, who was escorted out of the hearing.

“You only care about money, and that is what that conversation is about,” the protester said.

Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said for decades Democrats have fought for the rights of the people, including in the fight for universal health care.

John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, said he believes health care is a basic human right of all Americans and should not depend on the amount of money a person has. He said answering the question of how to provide health care coverage to all was Congress’ duty.

“Mr. Chairman, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, health care is a right. Health care is a fundamental human right that this country has yet realized,” Lewis said. “Mr. Chairman and members of the Ways and Means Committee, we play a special role. We need to stand up and fight for those who are not as healthy and not as wealthy.”

Other speakers at Wednesday’s hearing included Pam MacEwan, CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, and Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, managing director at Manatt Health.

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