I was skeptical last September when I heard word that Congressman Jim Langevin, Democrat of Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District, had decided to cosponsor the House single-payer health insurance bill, H.R.676 – the Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act.
I’d been in contact with the congressman’s office on the issue earlier in the year after The Providence Journal ran a story on the $4,000 in surprise medical bills my wife and I received after the birth of our second son.
I’d written a less than generous follow up op-ed in The Journal expressing disappointment that state officials were not doing more to prevent the same thing from happening to other parents, which caught the attention of the congressman’s office.
At the time, I was told by a constituent liaison that Rep. Langevin could not support H.R.676, because it had the potential to do “more harm than good.”
Obviously, I was surprised by the news of his apparent change of heart only a few months later.
But, after looking further into Langevin’s “new” stance on single-payer, I’m now quite certain not much has changed since the day I was given the rather vague excuse that single-payer could result in “more harm than good.”
If you carefully read Langevin’s entire prepared statement on “cosponsoring” H.R.676, it’s clear that he either a.) doesn’t understand the fundamental point of the bill, or b.) is refusing to acknowledge its intent.
At one point he says his announcement comes after “countless hardworking Rhode Island families expressed their support for a single payer option.”
The key word in that sentence is “option,” which is not what the Medicare For All bill is about.
As an August 2017 article in Vox states, “The most important change [under H.R.676] would be to virtually eliminate private medical insurance, forcing 150 million people who get insurance through their employer to switch to a new plan and creating a universal system that would give every American free health care with no premiums or deductibles.”
The bill is a radical rethinking of health insurance and health care in America. (That’s why Langevin has resisted it for so long.) The premise is to create a powerful national health insurance program and give the government the strength it needs to negotiate down costs while eliminating the unnecessary expenses of marketing and promotions that come with private insurance.
Langevin’s inclusion of the word “option” could not have been a mistake. It was most likely a calculated term thrown in to ease the fears of insurers and wealthy constituents who like their Cadillac plans.
Here’s another line in Langevin’s statement on the Medicare For All Act that deserves scrutiny: “I have determined that this is a policy worthy of consideration, so I have decided to cosponsor the Medicare for All Act.”
That doesn’t read like a ringing endorsement—because it isn’t. In reality, it doesn’t mean he is advocating for this bill at all. It’s an eloquent way of saying, “single payer is something people should talk about, maybe.”
Constituents who want H.R.676 signed into law should stop and think for a minute about what it really means that Langevin is “cosponsoring” the bill. (Hint: there’s a reason cosponsoring has been called “D.C.’s favorite time-wasting scam.”)
Cosponsoring doesn’t mean he’s using any of his political capital on this bill. It doesn’t mean he’s contacting the relevant committees to advocate for it. Technically speaking, it doesn’t even mean he’s willing to vote for it.
In the absence of additional action, Langevin’s “cosponsoring” is nothing more than a gesture aimed at appeasing the voters in his district who want this bill to become the law of the land.
Langevin’s lukewarm “embrace” of single payer is further evident only a couple lines down in his release:
“Single payer is one of many options for achieving universal health care, and I am glad to see that the Medicare for All Act has renewed a national dialogue on how this country can lower barriers to care, reduce costs, and improve outcomes.”
To say the bill he is apparently throwing his support behind is just “one of many options” completely undercuts the notion that Langevin supports the policy with any vigor.
And the line about a “national dialogue” intended to “lower barriers to care, reduce costs, and improve outcomes” reads like the type of incremental, technocratic “change” that keeps insurers, providers, and pharmaceutical companies happy while patients suffer.
It’s also worth mentioning the statement Langevin released on H.R.676 is the only search result that comes up for “single payer” on his official congressional website, langevin.house.gov/, a likely indication of how serious a priority it is to the congressman. (For comparison, search “submarine” or “Electric Boat” and see how many results pop up.)
Voters of the second district who pushed Langevin to embrace H.R.676 shouldn’t think their job is done, because nothing Langevin has said to date suggests he actually supports the changes outlined under Medicare For All.
If they really want single payer, I suggest they keep the noise up at town hall meetings the next time Langevin’s comes to town.
Editor’s note: Alex Nunes is a local journalist whose work has appeared in the Providence Journal, on Rhode Island Public Radio, and on his own website: nunesweekly.com.