By Rhoda Feng
On April 29, Public Citizen supporters and hundreds of nurses, patients, doctors and workers plastered the front of Big Pharma’s lobbying headquarters in Washington, D.C., with GoFundMe pages and Band-Aids to call out our fragmented, for-profit system that keeps affordable health care out of reach for too many Americans.
The next day, Congress held its first-ever hearing on Medicare for All — evidence that U.S. House of Representatives leadership is taking it seriously for the first time.
The following week, Public Citizen led a coalition webinar with U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the mayor pro tem of Durham, N.C., physician experts and movement leaders – who updated more than 350 activists about what’s happening behind the scenes in Congress to move Medicare for All forward and provided tools for people to take the fight for Medicare for All to the next level in their communities.
Public Citizen has called for legislation that would guarantee health care coverage for all Americans since its founding. Public Citizen endorsed the Medicare for All Act of 2019 (H.R. 1384) that was introduced on Feb. 27 by Jayapal (D-Wash.) and U.S. Rep Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and supported by more than 100 Democratic co-sponsors. The organization also supported similar legislation in the U.S. Senate (S. 1129) that was reintroduced on Apr. 10 by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and is supported by 14 co-sponsors.
“Lawmakers are acting on nationwide disgust with a health care system that literally kills people just because they can’t pay,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “It’s not a matter of whether we’ll have Medicare for All. It’s a matter of when.”
The Case for Medicare for All
On Feb. 4, ahead of the introduction of H.R. 1384, Public Citizen issued “The Case for Medicare for All,” a comprehensive report that drew upon a wealth of social scientific evidence supporting Medicare for All reform. The report debunked common myths and answered key questions about how Medicare for All would achieve health care coverage for everyone in the U.S. while reducing health care costs and making health care coverage more equitable and accessible.
The sentiments and facts from Public Citizen’s report were powerfully echoed by testimonies from researchers, health care leaders and consumers who testified before the hearing on Medicare for All held on April 30 by the House Committee on Rules.
One such emotional testimony came from Ady Barkan, a lawyer and activist who has terminal Lou Gehrig’s disease. Speaking to the committee with the aid of a computerized system, Barkan described how his family “cobbl[ed] together the money, from friends and family and supporters all over the country” each month to cover the cost of his astronomic monthly medical bills, despite having “good” insurance.
“[My family and I] have so little time left together, and yet our system forces us to waste it dealing with bills and bureaucracy,” Barkan said, before laying out the reasons he thinks Medicare for All is the right solution for our health care system.
Public Citizen’s report emphasized that “Medicare has successfully achieved universal coverage for Americans 65 and older since its passage more than 50 years ago.” The House Committee on Rules tweeted a similar comment just hours after the Medicare for All hearing, attesting to the massive public support for improve Medicare and finally expand it to everyone in America.
Expanding the Medicare for All Coalition
In the last few years, single-payer health care has moved from the fringes of the health care policy debate in this country to its very center. Public Citizen is now gearing up to take the next leap forward and win Medicare for All—and end, once and for all, the national tragedy of 100 Americans dying every day due to a lack of health care coverage.
Insurance and pharmaceutical companies that benefit from the current expensive and fragmented health care system also are gearing up to fight change. They continue to spend more than $600 million a year lobbying politicians to prevent the passage of single-payer reforms.
A key to winning Medicare for All is to mobilize support at the grassroots level. On April 4, Public Citizen and a broad coalition of allies, including Our Revolution, National Nurses United, American Medical Student Association, Physicians for a National Health Plan, Center for Popular Democracy, Local Progress, Healthcare NOW, People’s Action, Daily Kos, Democracy for America, Ultraviolet Action and others, launched a grassroots campaign to build the people power at the local level to overcome corporate opposition and win Medicare for All. Through activist webinar trainings and grassroots activities around the country, the coalition is working to mobilize people to encourage their local elected officials in cities, counties and towns from coast to coast to pass hundreds of resolutions supporting Medicare for All legislation.
To reach its goal of passing at least 100 city and county resolutions calling for Medicare for All by the end of 2019, Public Citizen:
- Disseminating a toolkit that explains, step-by-step, what individuals or local organizations need to do to win resolutions. The toolkit can be found on a newly launched website: medicare4allresolutions.org, which also serves to facilitate grassroots organizing.
- Building a powerful coalition of allied groups to coordinate resolution work and connect activists with affiliates in other organizations.
- Identifying activists who are interested in running local resolution campaigns, focusing on those who have taken prior action on Medicare for All.
- Reaching out to local leaders and helping them map out their plans to win a resolution.
- Engaging directly with local elected officials in strategic areas to encourage them to introduce resolutions.
- Hosting nationwide webinar trainings and coordinating organizing parties across the country to build excitement and provide training to local groups.
In addition to passing local Medicare for All resolutions, activists in communities across the country will hold town halls and education events; organize demonstrations and protests; email, write and call their representatives and senators; raise Medicare for All as an issue in public meetings with their members of Congress; and lobby their members of Congress directly in their home districts and home states.
“Public Citizen’s campaign is about building the people power we will need to overcome the immense monied interests that are profiting from our current, broken health care system,” said Melinda St. Louis, director of Public Citizen’s Medicare for All campaign. “Activists will educate and build power locally in order to work with and pressure their representatives and senators—constantly—to support and fight for Medicare for All. And we will work with our allies to keep up the drumbeat through 2020 and beyond.”
Public Citizen will continue its long fight for guaranteed health care through Medicare for All until health care becomes a realized right for everyone in America, just as it is in every other rich country around the world.