Congresswoman Bush Leads First Oversight Hearing on Medicare for All
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01) joined House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (Ny-12) to hold the Committee’s first hybrid hearing to evaluate the path forward for Medicare for All. Historically marginalized communities in the United States—including Black and brown communities, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people in rural communities, and low-income people —are uninsured and underinsured at disproportionate rates. The Congresswoman invited St. Louis’s own Christopher Wilcox, MSW, a Mutual Aid and Policy Associate at A Red Circle in St. Louis, to testify before the committee.
The Congresswoman directed her questions to Dr. Jamila Michener, PhD, Associate Professor at Cornell University Department of Government & Co-Director at the Cornell University Center for Health Equity, as well as Dr. Uché Blackstock, MD, Emergency Physician and Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Advancing Health Equity.
To watch the Congresswoman’s opening statement, click here.
To watch the Congresswoman’s full exchange with the witnesses, click here.
To watch the opening statement of Christopher Wilcox, MSW, click here.
A full transcript of her opening statement and exchange with the witness is available below.
Congresswoman Cori: St. Louis and I thank you, Chairwoman Maloney for your partnership in convening this historic hearing on the urgent need for comprehensive and universal health care coverage in the United States. The committee’s exemplary leadership, tireless advocacy, and commitment to genuine health equity will rightfully bring this conversation back to the forefront of public health policy.
I must acknowledge the tremendous work and contributions of Senator Sanders and Rep. Jayapal, for putting forth the boldest legislative proposal to date: the Medicare for All Act, and to my sisters in service on this committee for their partnership and steadfast leadership in our effort to protect health care as a human right.
Thank you to our esteemed witnesses–a comprehensive range of patients, researchers, and healthcare professionals who have come together today to passionately advocate for universal health care.
Medicare for all is a transformational policy change that would implement a national, single-payer universal health care system that guarantees comprehensive health care coverage to every person in America and end the for-profit, privatized, broken system we have in place now.
I have personally borne witness to the stark inequities faced by uninsured and under-insured patients during my tenure as a registered nurse. For some people, it’s hard to imagine rationing expensive medication like insulin; skipping dialysis appointments; forgoing surgical procedures; or refusing medical care entirely. People are having to choose between their life or a lifetime of medical debt.
I know because I am one of those people. Until I was sworn in as a Member of Congress, I was uninsured for over a year. I’ve spent the better part of my adulthood lacking access to health coverage, overburdened by medical debt, and unable to receive regular preventive and routine medical care. It shouldn’t have taken a job for me to be able to receive affordable medical care. Health care is a human right and we should guarantee it for everyone.
Providing every single person in the United States with health care is a powerful anti-poverty mechanism. Medicare for All would help low-income households save over $38 billion annually on medical out-of-pocket expenses like deductibles, copays, coinsurance, and self-payments. Research has proven universal coverage will help reduce poverty rates by over 20 percent.
In St. Louis, our communities are facing systemic threats to their health from all angles–from poverty, substandard housing conditions, environmental destruction, overdose and mental health crises, pollution, to over-policing. Lack of access to affordable health care has resulted in millions of preventable deaths before the pandemic, and the situation continues to rapidly deteriorate as COVID-19 claims over 1 million lives and counting.
While Democrats have a majority in the House, Senate, and executive branch, it is imperative lawmakers seize this narrow opportunity to enact transformative public health and poverty-reduction policies like Medicare for All. Taking strides toward universal health care coverage is the only path forward to reversing the troubling trends in US population health.
I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to earnestly consider the lethal consequences of continuing to prioritize Big Pharma profits over human life and health.
Thank you, and I yield back.
Congresswoman Cori: St. Louis and I thank you, Chairwoman Maloney and the committee for convening this critically important hearing, which represents our steadfast commitment to achieving universal health care coverage in the US.
For my colleagues on this committee, you have a choice in front of you today.
It’s a choice to save lives or a choice to let people die – disproportionately low-income people, Black people, brown, and Indigenous people – die. Because you are a human, you deserve health care. Because you are a human, you deserve health care.
In my community, Black mothers die at three to four times the rate of white women. In my community, Black babies are nearly twice as likely to die prematurely. I came to Congress because enacting Medicare For All is not a choice for me. It’s a moral imperative.
When I worked as a nurse, I cared for uninsured and underinsured patients every day. I’m reminded of one patient with diabetes, who was failed by our healthcare system because she could not afford all aspects of her care. Technically – she had insurance and a primary care provider. But she could not afford her insulin prescription, her needles, or her test strips to track her blood sugar levels. This patient, she was forced to ration her insulin and skip appointments, making it difficult to follow treatment plans. This patient ended up losing a limb, and eventually her life. One health condition, if left untreated, can be deadly.
For me, after I turned 18 years old, I became an uninsured low-wage worker. I could not afford to retain a primary care doctor — so I went to the emergency room for treatment for conditions like asthma, sinus infections, and toothaches.
My asthma was exacerbated by environmental pollution and degradation, and continued to worsen without proper medical care. During the Ferguson Uprising, toxic tear gas filled my lungs, leaving me gasping for air and it worsened my condition. Even though I was working as a nurse, I was forced to pay a $900 monthly premium, a $4,600 monthly deductible, and struggled to treat my asthma.
Dr. Michener - Can you please describe the relationship between health care coverage, health care coverage status, and economic mobility in the United States? How would Medicare for All reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth in the United States?
Dr. Michener: Representative Bush, thank you for the question, I think this is a key dimension of this discussion that we, I think that on some fronts that it has been willfully ignored. Which is that there are gross inequities, not just in our health system, but in our economic and social and political systems more broadly. And the inequities in the health system are exacerbating the inequities in other places. So, if we look at all of our anti-poverty programs that we have in this country, the largest effect on poverty, child poverty in particular but poverty more generally, comes from our Medicaid program.
Addressing health care disproportionately addresses some of the other core and fundamental challenges we have around economic inequality in this country.
And so what happens when you provide people with health care? We’ve seen it through Medicaid. They’re less likely to be evicted. They’re less likely to recidivate and go back to prison. They’re more likely in the long term to have positive financial outcomes. Less likely to be living in poverty. Less likely to have medical debt. More likely to have positive educational outcomes. More likely to have employment.
We want to say “socialized medicine,” scare people away with the scary phrases, right? Oh the government is going to be making the decisions. If the government is not making the decisions, then who is? The market. And those are not democratically controlled. It is not something the people can influence.
Congresswoman Cori: Thank you, thank you. If not three years into the pandemic, when will we actually address the fundamental flaws and structural inequities present in our health care system, in our privatized health care system.
Dr. Blackstock – Using your extensive experience as an emergency physician, can you please describe what the implementation of Medicare for All would look like for health care providers, particularly those who interact with insurance companies?
Dr. Blackstock: So, what it will do is, it will enable us as health care providers, caring for our patients, to more efficiently care for our patients, to prioritize the primary and preventative services that we provide them. It will not result in more administrative effort and costs. In fact, it will do the reverse. And so, it’ll help remove barriers for our patients to seek care, and in doing so to provide the best care even more efficiently than we can do that now.
Congresswoman Cori: I would say yes to that as the nurse that actually worked the bedside, that is true. Thank you and I yield back.
Congresswoman Cori Bush sits on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, serves as the Progressive Caucus Deputy Whip, and proudly represents St. Louis as a politivist in the halls of the United States Congress.