For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Adam Gaffney, President of Physicians for a National Health Program, awg174@mail.harvard.edu
Clare Fauke, Physicians for a National Health Program, clare@pnhp.org

Physicians’ Group Welcomes Emergency Medicare Expansion Proposal During Crisis

Medicare for All reform required for full health protection of all Americans

WASHINGTON - The COVID-19 pandemic and the deteriorating economy pose a grave risk to the health of the nation. The Medicare Crisis Program Act, introduced in Congress today by Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), would expand coverage to many of the uninsured, while requiring coverage of copays and deductibles for COVID-19-related care for the insured. Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a non-profit education and advocacy organization of over 23,000 physicians, welcomes this proposal, along with the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act, which was recently announced by Rep. Jayapal and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), as emergency measures to provide coverage during the pandemic. The physicians’ group also emphasizes that full health protection for Americans will only be realized through a fully public, Medicare for All system.

As unemployment soars, so has uninsurance: Some 7.3 million of the 47 million Americans likely to lose their jobs by June 30 will join the ranks of the uninsured, as will about 6 million of their dependents, raising the total number of uninsured Americans to about 43.5 million. For many more, income losses will make copays and deductibles all the more unaffordable, further straining household finances and forcing them to avoid needed medical care.

“To forestall medical and economic catastrophe, emergency action to cover the uninsured and underinsured through the federal Medicare program is needed now,” said PNHP President Dr. Adam Gaffney, who is also a pulmonary and critical care physician at the Cambridge Health Alliance, a Massachusetts safety-net hospital system which has the highest share of beds devoted to the care of COVID-19 patients of any hospital in that state. “Yet only single-payer reform will secure health care for all Americans in the years ahead,” he added.     

Earlier this month, Rep. Jayapal and Sen. Sanders announced the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act, a more comprehensive bill which would have both provided emergency Medicare for the uninsured for the duration of the crisis, and provide wrap-around coverage to the insured for all copays and deductibles, not just those for COVID-19-related care. 

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Today’s bill (the Medicare Crisis Program), would create an insurance program open to individuals who become uninsured and who qualify for unemployment benefits; would provide additional funds to expand state-based Medicaid programs; and require coverage of COVID-19-related medical costs for both the uninsured and underinsured.  It would also create a “National Clearinghouse” for the purchase and distribution to hospitals of needed medical equipment.

PNHP welcomes these proposals as immediate health protections during the crisis. However, the physicians’ group stresses that copays and deductibles should be eliminated for all medical conditions, not only for COVID-19, because American households urgently need relief from medical bills. The group also warned that in contrast to emergency Medicare expansion, proposals to subsidize private health insurance premiums through the COBRA program would leave far more Americans uninsured or burdened with unaffordable deductibles, while imposing higher costs for society. A detailed comparison of the three emergency coverage bills can be found HERE.

Ensuring full health protection for every American requires universal, comprehensive reform, PNHP emphasized, which would be achieved by Medicare-for-All bills previously introduced by Rep. Jayapal (H.R. 1384) and Sen. Sanders (S. 1129). During the pandemic, additional steps are required to protect vulnerable groups and minimize loss of life, as the physicians’ group outlined in its recently released “Eight Needed Steps in the Fight Against COVID-19.”

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Physicians for a National Health Program is a single issue organization advocating a universal, comprehensive single-payer national health program. PNHP has more than 21,000 members and chapters across the United States.

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