Many Democrats focused their election campaigns around protecting people with pre-existing conditions, and they want to move quickly to votes on proposals to do that — in part to test Republicans who made similar pledges during their campaigns. But more than two months after taking power, the full House has yet to vote on the issue.
Instead, the three House committees with jurisdiction over health care — Energy and Commerce; Ways and Means; and Oversight and Reform — have channeled their energies into numerous hearings on how to lower prescription drug costs, how to expand coverage and protect people with pre-existing conditions and how to override actions by the Trump administration.
Legislation is coming. Democrats are considering restricting the sales of short-term insurance policies, approved by the Trump administration, that do not have to comply with the Affordable Care Act, which means they do not have to provide essential health benefits and can discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions. Democrats are also looking for ways to cooperate with Republicans on proposals to lower the cost of prescription drug prices and to outlaw tactics used by brand-name companies to delay competition from generics.
Hearings on Medicare for all — which begin as early as April, according to Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, who is leading the push for the Medicare for All Act — will come against those proposals.
Under the bill sponsored by Ms. Jayapal and Ms. Dingell, the secretary of health and human services would establish a “national health budget,” specifying the total amount to be spent each year, and a national fee schedule for health care providers. Republicans have recently been demanding hearings on it, in the belief that they can score political points by showing that the proposal would be immensely expensive and disruptive.
Ms. Dingell said she intended to travel the country to push for the proposal. For her, it is carrying on a family legacy. Her husband’s father, John Dingell Sr., introduced the first universal health care bill in 1943 when he served in Congress; when the younger John Dingell was elected in 1955, he took up the cause and presided 10 years later when Congress passed the law enacting Medicare. A self-described pragmatist, Ms. Dingell acknowledged that the current bill may be only the beginning of a longer conversation.
“Social Security didn’t pass overnight,” she said. “Medicare didn’t pass overnight.”