Affirming that healthcare is a basic human right and that people must come before profits, Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Debbie Dingell introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2021 on Wednesday, exactly one year after the first coronavirus cases were confirmed in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Dingell (D-Mich.) unveiled the landmark legislation at a virtual town hall Wednesday afternoon, where they highlighted the devastating effects of a virus that has killed more than 537,000 people in the United States while leaving millions more uninsured due to pandemic-related job loss and underemployment.
The bill (pdf)—backed by a record 112 House co-sponsors—guarantees healthcare to every U.S. resident as a human right. It provides comprehensive benefits including primary care, vision, dental, prescription drugs, mental health, long-term services and supports, reproductive healthcare, and other services. It eliminates copays and private insurance premiums.
“Our movement is growing,” Jayapal said at the opening of the town hall. “We are joining together at this pivotal moment for healthcare across America. It was exactly one year ago that every single state across this country had a confirmed Covid-19 case, and in the 365 days since, the case for Medicare for All has never been clearer.”
In a statement introducing the bill, Jayapal noted that the country is currently experiencing the highest increase in uninsured people ever recorded.
“While this devastating pandemic is shining a bright light on our broken, for-profit healthcare system, we were already leaving nearly half of all adults under the age of 65 uninsured or underinsured before Covid-19 hit,” said Jayapal. “And we were cruelly doing so while paying more per capita for healthcare than any other country in the world.”
On Tuesday, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen published a report showing that around 40% of U.S. Covid-19 infections and 33% of virus deaths are attributable to a lack of adequate health insurance coverage. At the onset of the pandemic, around 87 million Americans were uninsured or underinsured.
“There is a solution to this health crisis—a popular one that guarantees healthcare to every person as a human right and finally puts people over profits and care over corporations,” said Jayapal. “That solution is Medicare for All—everyone in, nobody out—and I am proud to introduce it today alongside a powerful movement across America.”
Dingell said in a statement that “a system that prioritizes profits over patients and ties coverage to employment was no match for a global pandemic and will never meet the needs of our people.”
“In the wealthiest nation on Earth, patients should not be launching GoFundMe pages to afford lifesaving healthcare for themselves or their loved ones,” she asserted. “Medicare For All will build an inclusive healthcare system that won’t just open the door to care for millions of our neighbors, but do it more efficiently and effectively than the one we have today.”
“Now is not the time to shy away from these generational fights,” stressed Dingell, “it is the time for action.”
Representatives of the more than 300 local, state, and national organizations endorsing the bill agreed.
“Physicians cannot give patients the care they need in a fractured and profit-driven system,” said Dr. Susan Rogers, a Chicago-based internal medicine physician and president of Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), in a statement. “For too long, doctors have watched helplessly as our patients delayed or skipped needed care—even walked out of our hospital doors—because they could not afford to pay.”
“We can’t let Congress sit on their hands while our patients suffer and die needlessly,” added Rogers. “It’s time to invest in a system that is designed to improve health outcomes, not profit margins. It’s time for single-payer Medicare for All.”
Connie Huynh, healthcare for all director at the community organizing network People’s Action, said in a statement that “everyone deserves healthcare—pandemic or not—and Medicare for All can get us there… We need Congress to put people before profits and support Medicare for All.”
Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement that “after Covid-19, there is simply no excuse for the U.S. not to adopt Medicare for All and join all other rich countries by treating healthcare as a right.”
“Amid the worst acute public health crisis in generations, the current insurance system failed massively,” said Weissman. “Millions lost their health insurance and health insurer profits soared.”
“A health system that has long exhibited severe racial bias met a pandemic that viciously exacerbated racial inequality throughout society,” he continued. “The result was the shocking racial disparities of Covid-19, with Black, Hispanics, and Native Americans dying at twice the rate of whites.”
“A decent nation can no longer tolerate such injustice,” added Weissman. “The time for Medicare for All is now.”
Longtime single-payer healthcare advocate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) concurs. On Tuesday, his spokesperson Mike Casca told the Washington Post that the democratic socialist “will soon introduce Medicare for All legislation in the Senate.”