Medicare for All bill backed by some Michigan Dems gets historic U.S. House hearing

By: - April 30, 2019 5:07 pm

U.S. Capitol | Susan J. Demas

WASHINGTON — A well known activist with ALS has lost his ability to speak, but he traveled from his home in California to Capitol Hill this week for Congress’ first-ever hearing on Medicare for All legislation.

Ady Barkan, 35, described his family’s struggles to pay his medical bills since his diagnosis with the fatal degenerative neurological condition.

Three years ago, Barkan and his wife “felt like we had reached the mountaintop,” he told lawmakers through a computer because his diaphragm and tongue are no longer up to the task. “We had fulfilling careers, a wonderful community of friends and family and a smiling, chubby infant boy,” he said.

Then he was diagnosed with ALS and given a life expectancy of three to four years.

Since then, the family has grappled with out-of-pocket health care costs. Even though is family has comparatively good private health insurance, he said, he’s paying about $9,000 per month for in-home care.

The alternative, he said, would be to go into a nursing home away from his family. To fund his care, they’re cobbling together money from friends, family and supporters.

“GoFundMe is a terrible substitute for smart congressional action,” Barkan said at the House Rules Committee hearing, as he urged lawmakers to enact Medicare for All.

Barkan is an organizer with the Center for Popular Democracy. He made headlines in 2017 when he confronted then-U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on a plane about the the GOP tax plan.

Barkan’s testimony on Capitol Hill on Tuesday came as some U.S. House Democrats look to advance the Medicare for All legislation, despite its bleak prospects at winning support from the U.S. Senate or President Trump.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) is an original co-sponsor of the House bill and one of the leading advocates of its passage. Michigan Democratic U.S. Reps. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) also have signed on to the legislation that has become a rallying cry for progressives.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan | Michael Gerstein

“Momentum is growing across the country to guarantee health care as a human right, and this hearing is a critical step in that direction,” Dingell said after the hearing in a joint statement with U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The lawmakers thanked Barkan “for his incredible courage and leadership as well as the millions of people who join us in insisting on Medicare for All. As the House Democratic majority works to make sure no person goes without the health care that they need, we look forward to working with the American people and our colleagues in Congress to achieve our vision.”

Dingell posted a picture of herself at the hearing on Twitter. “Sitting in the first Congressional hearing on #MedicareForAll. Thanks @RulesDemocrats for hosting and working toward the vision of ensuring every American has quality, affordable healthcare.”

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chair of the House Rules Committee, accused Republicans of spending almost a decade in power “talking only about how to rip health care away from people.”

A top priority of President Donald Trump and Republicans has been dismantling the Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed during former President Barack Obama’s term. Many Democrats believe that Medicare for All is now the only way to secure universal health care.

The Democratic House majority, McGovern said, “is here to discuss how to expand it and how to lower costs and improve outcomes in the process.”

He acknowledged that it’ll be a steep climb, politically. “I know we won’t pass this bill overnight, but we won’t pass it unless we start the dialogue,” McGovern said.

Republicans, meanwhile, have depicted the effort as a “socialist” takeover of the health care system that will result in worse coverage at a high cost to taxpayers — arguments they’ve also made against the ACA.

“What Democrats are proposing today would completely change America’s healthcare system, and not in my view, for the better,” said Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, the top Republican on the Rules Committee. “This bill is a socialist proposal that threatens freedom of choice and would allow Washington to impose one-size-fits-all plans on the American people.”

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.