(CNN)House Democrats came into power this past winter divided on how to deal with an emerging groundswell of public support behind “Medicare for All” plans, and almost five months in, the answer, at least for some, is clear: Embrace it.
For others — moderates and party leaders who are uncertain about the proposal’s hefty price tag and its political tradeoffs — the subject is about to become more urgent.Tuesday’s first congressional hearing on legislation to create a new single-payer health care system could be a defining moment in the debate on Capitol Hill, ahead of key cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office due this week. 2020 Democrats rally around Obamacare amid Trump's new bid to kill health care lawThe hearing itself was initially set to be more mundane and limited in scope until Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, chair of the House Rules Committee, invited high-profile activist Ady Barkan, an ALS patient who founded the Be a Hero PAC, to testify.Barkan documented his journey to Washington over the weekend on Twitter, detailing his passage through security with his mechanized wheelchair, and rallied with fellow progressives from the Center for Popular Democracy on Monday outside the headquarters of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a major pharmaceutical lobby. Read More”We will end their profiteering and end their rationing and end their monopolies, because everyone deserves access to medicine. Everyone deserves health care,” Darius Gordon, national field organizer for the Center for Popular Democracy, said on behalf of Barkan in a call-and-response speech to the crowd. “Health care is a human right.” Barkan also met with Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and Democratic presidential candidate who has introduced his own version of Medicare for All legislation in the Senate.Barkan’s testimony will represent a sharp break from the position taken by Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has argued for focusing on reinforcing Obamacare instead of overhauling the nation’s health care system as the Affordable Care Act comes under legal assault by President Donald Trump’s administration.Barkan, who is dying of ALS, was added as a witness amid complaints first reported by HuffPost that the original witness list did not include strong proponents of Medicare for All. “Ady Barkan has been fighting for many of the principles this Majority believes in for a long time, including the notion that health care is a right and not a privilege,” McGovern said in a press release announcing the change last week. “His extraordinary advocacy since his diagnosis has been an inspiration to so many Americans.” Medicare for All legislation was introduced earlier this year in the House by Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state and Debbie Dingell of Michigan. It would roll out the single-payer system over two years, as opposed to the four-year transition envisioned in a similar plan laid out by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. Jayapal’s wide-ranging bill would cover long-term care, prescription drugs, vision and dental care, primary care, hospital visits, maternity care, medical devices and abortions — though current law prohibits federal dollars from being used to pay for abortions. Sanders’ bill would also get rid of that rule. Jayapal’s legislation does not include details on how to pay for the sweeping proposal. A CBO estimate of the bill’s cost is expected Wednesday. The House proposal would sunset Medicare and Medicaid but would keep the Indian Health Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system intact.The single-payer debate has highlighted divides within the Democratic conference. Most freshmen Democrats, many of whom were elected in competitive districts, have not been willing to sign on to the proposal. “How are we going to pay for it?” Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois asked of Medicare for All in a February interview with CNN. “What happens with private insurance? What happens to all types of coverage?”Underwood has argued for shoring up the Affordable Care Act instead, a strategy that supporters say is more likely to result in legislation passing through a divided Congress. Proponents of Medicare for All, such as California Nurses Association board member Sandy Reding, argue that an incremental approach isn’t adequate. “Obamacare was a step in the right direction, but the only thing that’s going to cure what ails our health care system right now is Medicare for All,” she told CNN at the Monday afternoon rally. “Not incremental changes, not other options. We have to make sure that profits don’t continue to be put over people, because capitalizing on the sick and injured is horrible.”