Pa. U.S. Rep. Scanlon questions the best path to ‘elusive’ universal health care

U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, attends a meeting of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee (Photo from Scanlon's Facebook Page)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon has some outstanding questions about her colleagues’ plans to push ahead on Medicare for All legislation.

Scanlon, D-5th District, sits on the powerful House Rules Committee, which held the first-ever congressional hearing on the policy on Tuesday. The suburban Philadelphia Democrat welcomed the conversation, but said, “I’m trying to parse the best way forward from here to protect the Affordable Care Act and move to whatever our next step is.”

Four Pennsylvania Democrats are among those co-sponsoring the House legislation, including Reps. Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District; Matt Cartwright, D-8th District; Mike Doyle, D-18th District; and Susan Wild, D-7th District.

“I have no question that healthcare is a human right and that no family should have to go bankrupt or worry about putting food on the table due to medical costs, or have to create a GoFundMe page,” Scanlon told the Capital-Star.

Some of her constituents, she said, “believe that Medicare for All is the best path forward, and there are others who are concerned about how it’s going to work.” Those concerns, she said, are “rooted in fear of rising costs, changes to their existing employer- or union-based insurance and for many, the impact on their jobs.”

Scanlon said she’s seeking answers about what a “just transition” to Medicare for All would look like and about “how we achieve that elusive universal coverage.”

‘GoFundMe is a terrible substitute’

One of the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing was Ady Barkan, 35, a well known activist with ALS who has lost his ability to speak. He traveled from his home in California to Capitol Hill to describe his family’s struggles to pay his medical bills since his diagnosis with the fatal degenerative neurological condition.

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Three years ago, Barkan and his wife “felt like we had reached the mountaintop,” he told lawmakers through a computer because of issues with his diaphragm and tongue. “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 healthcare 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.

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

House Democrats are hoping to advance the Medicare for All legislation despite its bleak prospects at winning support from the U.S. Senate or President Donald Trump.

House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., accused House Republicans of spending nearly a decade in power “talking only about how to rip health care away from people.”

The Democratic House majority, he 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 healthcare system that will result in worse coverage at a high cost to taxpayers.

“What Democrats are proposing today would completely change America’s healthcare system, and not in my view, for the better,” said Oklahoma 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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