Portrait of a Medicare-for-all Town Hall Meeting


I attended the Medicare-for-all town hall meeting at Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis on the evening of July 18. It was convened by Rep. Ilhan Omar, whose congressional district is roughly coterminous with Minneapolis. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) the chief sponsor of the Medicare for All Act of 2019, was her guest, along with four local speakers, including Dr. Dave Dvorak, an emergency room physician representing Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), and Rose Roach, the executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA).

For a small-d and big-d democrat like me, it was a very encouraging event. It was encouraging to see four or five hundred people, almost all of them white, cram themselves into an auditorium on a hot summer night to support a Muslim Congresswoman under vicious attack by our reckless president. It was encouraging to hear Representatives Omar and Jayapal and the other speakers discuss a complex and important topic with so much passion and yet so much civility. And for me, a long-time organizer for single-payer legislation, it was an opportunity to assess firsthand out how prominent leaders of the single-payer movement present the Medicare-for-all solution to the public.

The setting

When I drove up to the Sabathani Community Center around 6:40 that Thursday night, the presence of the Minneapolis police was obvious. I saw one squad car parked right next to the only open door (the one on the east side), two others sitting side by side in the parking lot on the east side, and a fourth right in front of the main entrance (which was locked) on the south side. 

Ilhan’s online invitation to this event indicated anyone wishing to attend had to pre-register online. The necessity of checking who had registered created a long line that at times extended outside the east door. After about a ten-minute wait, I entered the auditorium. It was already so jammed it was hard to find a seat with a decent view of the stage. I counted ten TV cameras set up in the back, and one more in front. As I headed down the aisle looking for a seat, I asked the camera man near the aisle what station he was with. He said “CBS.”

I was hoping to make contact with someone on Ilhan’s or Pramila’s staff while I was there. I wanted to talk to them about the three hearings on the Medicare for All Act of 2019 (HR 1384) that had been held in the US House of Representatives over the preceding three months. In my view (and in the view of other single-payer supporters who saw all or most of those hearings), they hadn’t gone well. Claims by opponents about whether and how HR 1384 would cut US health care expenditures, including the claim that HR 1384 could only cut costs by slashing doctor and hospital income to the bone, had been left either unanswered by the bill’s proponents, or were simply denied without explanation or documentation. Witnesses supporting Medicare-for-all focused almost exclusively on how bad the US system is. They said almost nothing about how HR 1384 will cut health care costs (it will do so primarily by reducing the extravagant administrative costs generated by our byzantine system), while the opponents of HR 1384 did the reverse – they used up almost none of their time telling legislators how bad our system is and used almost all of their time making false or exaggerated claims related to HR 1384 costs. [1]

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