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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

Medicare for None

May 7, 2019
Weekly Columns

Last week, the House Rules Committee held the first ever legislative hearing on the Democrats’ so-called Medicare for All proposal. Both the inaugural forum and the legislation itself reveal a lot about the Democratic majority’s priorities in the U.S. House of Representatives.

While not unheard of, it is certainly unusual for the Rules Committee to conduct legislative hearings. During most weeks, the committee serves as the last stop for major legislation before it can go to the House floor for consideration and a vote. Usually, members of the committee are focused on setting the terms of debate, including how much time is allowed and whether any additional amendments can be brought up or accepted on the floor. While I was tapped to serve as the top Republican on the committee this Congress, I have sat on this influential panel for some time and know firsthand the rarity of having a legislative hearing.

So why did a committee that typically guides procedure conduct such a consequential hearing? I suspect the recent use of the “Speaker’s Committee” was intended to signal to the American people what is most important to Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic majority in the House. That suspicion is confirmed since the Rules Committee can only claim jurisdiction over one page of the 120-page bill. On the other hand, other House committees are much more relevant to weighing in and considering the Democrats’ proposed one-size-fits-all, government-run health care system. Following last week’s hearing, I am encouraged that one of those committees – Ways and Means – is expected to conduct a hearing on the legislation. I hope others will soon follow.

Considered alone, the title sounds promising. After all, Medicare is a popular program among current recipients across the country. Unfortunately, the socialist proposal would really lead to a government takeover of the nation’s health care system – requiring all Americans to pay more in taxes, wait longer for care and receive potentially worse care. Moreover, it would put current Medicare recipients at risk.

While it’s uncertain how much the specific legislation would cost taxpayers or how Democrats intend to pay for it, the price tag would be enormous. In fact, basic Medicare for All proposals have been estimated at more than $32 trillion over 10 years. The annual federal budget is already about $4.5 trillion, but that number would jump to around $7.7 trillion with the proposed one-size-fits-all, government-run health care system. During the hearing, we learned from one of our witnesses that even if both the individual and corporate tax rates were doubled, the cost of Medicare for All still wouldn’t be covered.

Aside from the staggering cost, Medicare for All would cause more than 158 million Americans to lose their current coverage. In fact, private health insurance would be completely banned. That means anyone with private, employer-based or union-based health insurance would lose their plans in place of the government’s one-size-fits-all coverage. Even if you like your plan, there’s no question that you really can’t keep it.

As Medicare is structured now, current recipients and Medicare Advantage plan holders are by and large satisfied with the health care they receive. However, the existing Medicare system would be at risk since millions of new recipients – who have not paid into the program in the same way as current recipients – would be enrolled. The influx would reduce the quality of services and force longer wait times. In addition, the popular Medicare Advantage program – used by approximately 22 million Americans – would be eliminated. For current Medicare recipients, “Medicare for All” really means “Medicare for None.”

While it might sound appealing to pursue what sounds like the be all end all, Democrats promised that less than a decade ago with the so-called Affordable Care Act. Often referred to as Obamacare, the sweeping reform put the federal government’s fingerprints all over the health care industry. Back then, Americans were promised they could keep their doctors, that they could stay on their current plans and that their premiums would go down. None of those things turned out to be true, yet Democrats are pushing for a total government takeover of the industry with their Medicare for All.

In the days ahead, I do hope Democrats and Republicans can work together to improve the nation’s health care system. Certainly, Republicans remain committed to finding solutions that would provide for better access and improve the quality of care for the American people.

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