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More than half of House Democrats now support Medicare-for-all

Pramila Jayapal
A plan by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, would move every American onto one government insurer in two years. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges

WASHINGTON — More than half of all House Democrats now support Medicare-for-all, but that's not likely to prompt Speaker Nancy Pelosi to allow a vote on the floor.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the chamber's No. 5 Democrat, signed on to the bill from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., this week. He's the 118th House member and the second-highest-ranking Democrat to back the legislation - showing the party's growing aspirations to scrap much of the U.S. health-care system in favor of a single Medicare-like plan for everyone.

Jayapal, who has been working to bring more sponsors to her bill after introducing it in February, said getting the support of members of House leadership "is proof of the growing momentum for Medicare-for-all in Congress and in communities across America."

Despite urging from the progressives in her caucus, Pelosi has resisted holding a floor vote on Medicare-for-all - a vote that could be difficult for moderates in her party given that it would overhaul coverage for millions of Americans and is sharply opposed by industry.

Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan, the House's No. 4 Democrat, has also co-sponsored Jayapal's bill. But getting a thumbs-up from Jeffries is perhaps more significant, considering he's viewed as a likely successor to Pelosi. In his announcement, Jeffries said Congress should first focus on improving the Affordable Care Act - but that Medicare-for-all is a worthy goal lawmakers should keep in their sights.

But Jeffries distinguished himself from lawmakers who are demanding Medicare-for-all right now. He has also signed onto Medicare X, legislation adding a public-option plan to the Obamacare marketplaces. He echoed a sentiment expressed by many Democrats - that they're all united behind the goal of universal health coverage, however that may be achieved.

"While these and other sweeping initiatives remain a work in progress, they are an important part of the ongoing debate as to how we strengthen our healthcare delivery system," he said.

Jeffries is right about this: Medicare-for-all remains decidedly aspirational for the Democratic Party. The idea has played an outsize role in the Democratic primary, but as the 2020 presidential candidates have been forced to talk details, most have backed a less aggressive approach than the overhaul envisioned by Jayapal and, on the Senate side, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., originally said they favor a Medicare-for-all approach, and Harris even co-sponsored Sanders' bill. But both candidates have since softened their stance, with Buttigieg proposing "Medicare-for-all-who-want-it," which would allow people to keep workplace coverage, and Harris suggesting private plans should still play a role in administering Medicare benefits. And former vice president Joe Biden was never on the Medicare-for-all train, instead advocating a public-option approach.

So of the top-polling candidates, that leaves just Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., willing to back Medicare-for-all and its virtual elimination of all private forms of health coverage.

House committees held three hearings earlier this year on Medicare-for-all and single-payer approaches in general. But over the last few months, the Medicare-for-all debate moved to the campaign trail - and will stay there through 2020.

This article was written by Paige Winfield Cunningham, a reporter for The Washington Post.


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