Rep. Pramila Jayapal touts Medicare for All in Portland
A standard-bearer in the Medicare for All movement found a receptive audience during a pit stop in Portland — though crucial questions about the ambitious proposal remain unanswered, including how to pay for it.
Less than three months after introducing her version of the single-payer plan on Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, was greeted with sustained cheering during the Saturday, May 11 question-and-answer session at Benson Polytechnic High School.
"We have the worst health outcomes of any peer country in the world," the second-term representative told the crowd, and "a health care system plagued with a deep sickness that puts profits over people. And that has to end."
Flanking her in support were Oregon Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, who are among the 108 co-sponsors of Jayapal's legislation.
"This is what people want," said Bonamici.
While he said some tweaks may be necessary, Blumenauer added: "You don't start by compromising away a vision."
Jayapal's 125-page Medicare for All Act of 2019 would entail a vast reworking of the American health care system, which comprises about 18 percent of the nation's economy. Medicare and Medicaid would phase out, while private employers would be prohibited from competing with the government-run plan that would cover all Americans.
Additionally, patients would not make out-of-pocket payments on most health expenses — such as vision, dental, hospital visits, primary care, lab tests and maternity programs. Prescriptions drugs would still require co-pays.
While conservative think-tanks have released eye-popping $32 trillion estimates for the cost of a Medicare for All bill floated by presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, Jayapal defended the lack of a funding mechanism in her bill, noting that the federal government already pays two-thirds of health costs.
"We need to come up with another third, and that is an easy thing to do," she said while meeting with reporters after the event.
Recent polls, however, show many Americans don't want to lose employer-offered insurance.
Others have suggested that Jayapal's proposal would trigger pay cuts for medical professionals, since current Medicare reimbursements are less lucrative than those paid to doctors by private insurance companies.
"I'm not worried," said Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, a practicing E.R. physician, highlighting the disparity in care caused by the difference in profit margins.
In an opening speech, Meieran noted that 16% of the 70,000 patients at the county's seven primary care clinics still have no insurance, compared with about one-third of patients before the Affordable Care Act passed.
Medicare for All will actually boost doctors' pay by cutting administrative charges and paperwork, Jayapal argued, though she also admitted that "the specialists at the very top might see a decrease because we are going to control costs."
Jayapal, the first Indian-American woman to serve in the U.S. House, was introduced to the crowd by her older sister, Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.