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As millions are stripped of health coverage amid Covid-19, House Dems unveil bill for emergency expansion of Medicare and Medicaid

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Joe Kennedy D-MASS (Screen Capture)

“Our nation’s for-profit, employment-based healthcare system did not make sense before Covid-19 struck, and it is proving dangerous and deadly during the crisis.”

Just a day after the U.S. Labor Department announced that more than 30 million people have applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March, over 30 House Democrats came together to introduce legislation that would guarantee healthcare coverage to all Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

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In a statement announcing the Medicare Crisis Program Act, lead sponsors Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) slammed the U.S. healthcare system and pointed out that an estimated 35 million people could end up uninsured amid the public health crisis.

“Our nation’s for-profit, employment-based healthcare system did not make sense before Covid-19 struck, and it is proving dangerous and deadly during the crisis,” declared Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and lead House sponsor another coronavirus-related healthcare bill unveiled with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in April.

“Millions of Americans are losing their job and their health insurance at precisely the moment when we need everyone to be able to access care and treatment for illness,” said Jayapal. “The Medicare Crisis Program Act would guarantee healthcare for millions of people struggling with the health and economic realities of the Covid-19 pandemic and protect Americans from outrageous out-of-pocket costs.”

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Jayapal and Kennedy’s new bill would “dramatically expand” Medicare and Medicaid eligibility, cap out-of-pocket costs for Medicare enrollees, and require all public and private health insurers to fully cover care related to Covid-19—including for patients who display symptoms but test negative for the disease. Further, the legislation would bar healthcare providers from billing uninsured patients for Covid-19 care.

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“A healthcare system more concerned with profits than patients was never equipped to confront a pandemic like Covid-19,” said Kennedy. “Because of our nation’s stubborn failure to guarantee universal healthcare, millions of people are now not only out of a job, but out of health care coverage as coronavirus ravages their communities.”

“With the Medicare Crisis Program Act,” he said, “we can begin to fill in the gaps of a fundamentally flawed healthcare system during this pandemic and chart a path towards Medicare For All when it ends.”

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The bill is backed by a number of high-profile progressives in the House, including all four members of the Squad and Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). More than 60 local and national groups—such as Business for Medicare for All, Indivisible, Our Revolution, People’s Action, and Social Security Works—have also endorsed the bill.

Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, issued a lengthy statement in support of the legislation. He emphasized how Americans losing their jobs—and thus their employment-based health insurance—because of a pandemic serves as a harsh indictment of the country’s current system and noted that even millions of Americans with insurance face cost-sharing demands for Covid-19 care.

“We would have none of these problems if we had a Medicare for All system, but for right now, we need an immediate solution. The Medicare Crisis Program Act is that solution.”
—Robert Weissman, Public Citizen

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“We would have none of these problems if we had a Medicare for All system, but for right now, we need an immediate solution. The Medicare Crisis Program Act is that solution,” he said. “At the very least, everybody must be guaranteed healthcare amid a national health emergency, without fear of facing bankruptcy or unmanageable bills.”

Drs. Justin Lowenthal and Meenakshi Bewtra, co-chairs of the Covid-19 response taskforce and members of the national board of directors of Doctors for America, said in a joint statement welcoming the legislation Friday that they “know firsthand that Covid-19 has not merely caused—but rather, exposed—the deep and critical problems that our patients face in affordability, equity, and accessibility of their healthcare.”

“We applaud this proposal for ensuring coverage, affordability, and access to healthcare for all of our patients during the Covid crisis, while illustrating one of several viable approaches for moving toward universal healthcare in the future,” the doctors said. “This crisis shows us that, as a nation, we are all in this together: We should all have access to [personal protective equipment] when caring for and serving others, and we should all have insurance coverage that does not disappear when you need it nor depend on your employment status during a pandemic.”

Dr. Adam Gaffney, president of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), another national network of doctors, also welcomed the new proposal—along with the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act previously introduced by Jayapal and Sanders—in a statement Friday.

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“To forestall medical and economic catastrophe, emergency action to cover the uninsured and underinsured through the federal Medicare program is needed now,” said Gaffney, also a pulmonary and critical care physician at the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts. “Yet only single-payer reform will secure healthcare for all Americans in the years ahead.”


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