Universal health care hearing: GOP hears what it wants to



While most Republicans used their time at the House Ways & Means Committee hearing on Medicare-for-all to trash the concept, one rogue member criticized the hearing as simply misguided.

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz) speaks at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on June 12, 2019. Courtesy YouTube

Congress should be looking at the future of health care, not reforming Medicare, Rep. Schweikert said.

“We are living a time of disruption,” Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz) said. “There is incredible technology that is about to crash the price of health care if this committee particularly is willing to challenge and do something that’s incredibly uncomfortable for those of us in elective office, and that is look incumbent providers, business, insurers, systems in the face and say ‘it’s time for the revolution.’

“Are we willing to talk to our hospitals, talk to our providers, talk to technology, talk to the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], and have the honest discussion that this is about to become your primary care physician,” he said, raising a smartphone in his hand. “We will be healthier because it is individualized to us instead of what is going here in the discussion of a collectivization of a system that is already pretty crappy.”

He cited the recent Medicare Trustees Report showing that the hospital insurance trust fund (Medicare Part A) is 6.5 years from insolvency. “I don’t know why this hearing isn’t about Medicare itself and protecting Medicare itself instead of nationalization of health care. ... So defending the current system is absurd for all of us.”

The partisan nature of the June 12 hearing was clear.

Republican committee members focused their questioning on Grace-Marie Turner, president of the conservative Galen Institute and an outspoken opponent of Medicare-for-all. Less attention was paid to witnesses who offered alternatives to achieving greater health care coverage for the population.

Ranking member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) set the tone in his opening statement: “While our American health care system does have real problems, we should focus on improving what’s working and to fix what’s broken, rather than starting over with a massive new socialized medicine scheme that will leave many families worse off,” he said.

He noted that the federal government is on the cusp of yet another shutdown after three shutdowns in 2018. “The federal government can’t even keep its doors open. Can you really trust Washington with your life-and-death health care decisions? Make no mistake, Medicare-for-all guts quality health care in favor of delays and long waiting lines. It gives Washington politicians unlimited control over your health care. It cancels good quality health care plans for millions of workers, children, and the elderly and is so costly – tens of trillions of dollars – it will bankrupt America.”

Ms. Turner was regularly called upon to back up these talking points, using an analysis of a specific legislative proposal (H.R. 1384), in which she noted that under that specific Medicare-for-all bill, “Washington would be deciding what benefits people are eligible to receive. It will be deciding how much providers will be paid, so yes, it significantly limits choices of individuals and we see this, of course, in other countries as well.”

And while Republicans were using the testimony of Ms. Turner to back up their agenda, no one queried Donald Berwick, MD, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and president emeritus and senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, who testified in support of a Medicare-for-all program – that the true impact of any universal coverage plan is dependent upon the program’s design.

One common GOP criticism throughout the hearing was that there would be a 40% reduction in pay to physicians and hospitals because the higher payments rates from private insurers that currently help offset lower payments from Medicare and Medicaid would be lost.

“The rhetoric we are hearing about 40% cuts is not necessary,” Dr. Berwick testified. “We can have sensible payment under an expanded Medicare system. That’s rhetoric, not fact. That’s in the design.”

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