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Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) waits to speak during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol in opposition to the involvement of U.S. military forces in Syria March 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) waits to speak during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol in opposition to the involvement of U.S. military forces in Syria March 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Because It's "An Idea Whose Time Has Come," Rep. Keith Ellison Takes Lead on Medicare for All Legislation

Universal coverage, Ellison said Wednesday, "is a crucial linchpin in our fight for fairness and economic justice."

Andrea Germanos

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) drew praise from medical professionals and fellow lawmakers on Wednesday after becoming the new lead sponsor of H.R. 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act.

"America needs universal, single payer healthcare," Ellison, who is deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), declared on House floor.

Despite spending more "per person on healthcare than any other nation in the world," he continued, "we still have tens of millions of uninsured. We have the highest infant mortality rate of any wealthy nation on Earth. And we are last—last—in life expectancy among wealthy countries."

"The money that we're spending on healthcare, it isn't going to the patients. It isn't going to the surgeons. It isn't even going to the pharmaceutical industries. The insurance industries who are raking in record profits every day are the major beneficiaries of our policy," he said.

The legislation was first—and repeatedly—introduced by former Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. It now boasts 121 co-sponsors, which means that though it's backed by nearly 63 percent of House Democrats, 72 Democrats in the chamber have yet to get behind it. It would be funded through an increase on the personal income taxes of the top  5 percent of income earners, a new payroll tax, and a financial transaction tax. 

"This is an idea whose time has come, and it is a crucial linchpin in our fight for fairness and economic justice," Ellison added it a press statement.

Bolstering Ellison's assertion that now's the time, a recent survey from the Commonwealth Fund found that 92 percent of working-age adults think affordable healthcare is a right, and a Harvard-Harris poll from September found that a majority of Americans back a single-payer healthcare system.

"Healthcare is a fundamental human right,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif). "In the richest nation on Earth, no parent should have to choose between paying the bills and taking their sick child to the doctor. That's why I’m proud to cosponsor Medicare for All legislation. At the end of the day, it is patients—not corporate profits—that should come first."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who's leading similar legislation in the Senate, similarly welcomed Ellison's new leadership on H.R. 676, saying that it would help "take on the greed of health insurance and pharmaceutical companies and finally guarantee health care to all."

Organizations including Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) and National Nurses United (NNU) cheered the development as well.

"Everyone from [Amazon founder] Jeff Bezos to [House Speaker] Paul Ryan is pushing ideas for how to reinvent healthcare," said Dr. Carol Paris, a Nashville-based psychiatrist and president of PNHP. "Lots of groups claim they have a plan that can get to 'universal coverage,' but only a single-payer bill like H.R. 676 can get the cost savings that make universal coverage both feasible and sustainable. We welcome Rep. Ellison as the new lead sponsor of H.R. 676 and will work with him to win even more support for Medicare for all."

Jean Ross, co-president of NNU, explained how "as registered nurses, we see the horrific impacts of our for-profit health insurance system every day at the hospital bedside. Tens of millions of people don't have insurance, while millions more can't afford the costs of the deductibles and copays. As a result, too many patients go without care. We see patients every day who can't afford the costs of the lifesaving treatments or medications that they require, and we see the devastation that these realities cause for their families."

"But there is a solution to end this unnecessary suffering," she said. "Through an improved Medicare for All system, every person living in the United States could receive the healthcare services they need."

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