Medicare for All, House Hearings, CBO Scores, Oh My

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Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), who was recently elected to be the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, announced on Tuesday, January 8th, that he had written to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for a report on single payer health system proposals.

While that may sound a bit dry and procedural, it’s actually an important and historic moment.

Let’s run through why.

Firstly, some of you might be asking: “What is the CBO?” Great question!

It’s a non-partisan federal agency, housed in the legislative branch, that is responsible for creating reports looking at budget and economic concerns for proposed legislation. The CBO does not make policy recommendations, but the contents of their reports are typically used as the most reliable projections on any new proposed programs. (It should be noted, Yarmuth did not request a cost estimate, but instead asked for a report on how the system would be administered, enrollment, financing options, etc).

Next, it’s important to know why he’s asking for this now. The House Medicare for All Bill, H.R. 676, was first introduced in 2003, and has been reintroduced with every new Congress. Despite the fact that it has collected 124 cosponsors, it’s never been debated in any committee. Because of that, the CBO has never done a report on a single payer proposal before.

All of that is about to change. It was recently announced that Yarmuth’s Budget Committee, as well as the Rules committee led by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass) will be holding hearings this session on Medicare for All. This will be the first time that single payer has been considered by a committee in Congress.

This request for a CBO score reflects the fact that Medicare for All is being taken seriously by the new Congress. It means that Yarmuth plans for his committee hearings to be meaningful, that he wants the members to have the most information possible going in, and that they can be an opportunity to demonstrate to members of Congress and the country how beneficial a Medicare for All system could be.

This is a first step in what will be a long battle to pass Medicare for All, but it’s exciting to see the new Congress beginning the process early.