Rep. Pramila Jayapal on Tuesday directly confronted an influential health policy aide for attempting to undercut the Democratic caucus's push for Medicare for All.
Jayapal, author of the Medicare for All bill H.R. 1384, demanded to know at a meeting of the Congressional Progressive Caucus why Wendell Primus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's top health policy adviser, derided her proposal in discussions with insurance executives.
"I think it's really inappropriate for staff representing the Speaker's office to be undercutting members of our caucus," Jayapal told Politico after the meeting.
As multiple outlets including Common Dreams reported, Primus spoke with executives and health policy experts on November 30 at a meeting where he called proposals like Jayapal's and the broader push toward Medicare for All an "unhelpful distraction."
While last year's meeting was private, attendees told Politico in reporting published Tuesday that Primus had given the impression that those present should work to steer public sentiment away from a single-payer system and toward propping up the for-profit health insurance sector.
As one single payer advocate pointed out on Twitter, Primus entirely misrepresented the reality of Medicare for All's broad support. He claimed that single-payer healthcare would be "very expensive," despite the fact that it's projected to cost $2 trillion less than the current for-profit model in its first decade; that "stakeholders" are against it, ignoring polls showing the at least 70 percent of Americans including more than half of Republicans back the plan; and that it will create "winners and losers," suggesting that the current system—which allows profit-driven insurance corporations to regularly refuse to cover medical expenses and kick Americans off their insurance plans—is more equitable than a proposal to expand the broadly popular Medicare program to the entire country.
Pelosi's senior health policy advisor says a #MedicareForAll health system isn't a good idea because "stakeholders are against" it. Yup.
— All On Medicare (@AllOnMedicare) April 2, 2019
In Tuesday's closed-door caucus meeting, Jayapal reportedly reminded Primus of the slides he had shown and rejected his claim that his remarks in November had been taken out of context or misinterpreted.
"We took some things out of the slides and said, these are some of the things you said—it's not a matter of perception," Jayapal told Politico.
National Nurses United (NNU), which has long been a leader in the fight for single-payer and Medicare for All, also spoke out against Primus for his behavior, noting that he undermined not only a member of Congress but also the voters who had turned out just weeks earlier to vote for many representatives who support universal healthcare.
"The fact that it occurred last November, shortly after the Democrats recaptured the House majority in an election that was fought largely on the issue of health care, is a clear betrayal to the American people who had just voted overwhelmingly in favor of improved health care," NNU President Jean Ross said in a statement.
Jayapal told Politico she has felt supported by Pelosi as she's pushed her Medicare for All proposal, but that Primus's actions have signaled that the House Speaker's office is working against her goals and those of other progressives in Congress.
"She is respectful of me in leading this effort, and I would expect her staff to at least follow that," the congresswoman said.
Ross noted that centrists' attempts to undercut the Medicare for All push will only embolden those who believe the government should provide healthcare to all Americans, and who are prepared to fight for the proposal.
"We nurses are listening, even if our Congressional leaders aren't," Ross said. "Nurses will not be silenced by Big Pharma or other industry opposition, but will continue to fight for what we know is the best solution: Medicare for All."