April 30 (UPI) -- The House rules committee on Tuesday began the first-ever hearing on the Medicare for All universal healthcare proposal, and heard from a terminally ill California man who detailed his experience in the existing system.
The panel set the hearing after the healthcare reform package was introduced by Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, which proposes a single government insurance plan for all Americans. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced a similar plan in the upper chamber.
Tuesday marked the first time congressional lawmakers heard testimony on the Medicare for All proposal. Author and activist Ady Barkan -- who has terminal amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig disease -- was the main speaker.
Barkan said he requires full-time home care that costs about $9,000 per month, and that's in addition to what his insurance already covers. Speaking with a computer-aided device, because ALS no longer allows him to speak, he said American families are being confronted with serious health issues -- and he considered it a duty to cross the country and wake Congress' conscious to the issue.
"Never before have I had to rely on a synthetic voice to lay out my arguments, convey my most passionately held beliefs, tell the details of my personal story," he told lawmakers.
"On the day we are born and on the day we die, and on so many days in between, all of us need medical care." he added. "And yet in this country, the wealthiest in the history of human civilization, we do not have an effective or fair or rational system for delivering that care.
"You and your constituents are well aware of the problems: high costs, bad outcomes, mind-boggling bureaucracy, racial disparities, bankruptcies, geographic inequities, and obscene profiteering."
Barkan said the United States never asks how it will pay for wars or corporate tax cuts, but when it comes to healthcare it's always the first question asked.
Jayapal first introduced the legislation in February, saying it would eliminate co-payments, premiums and deductibles for patients while also providing universal comprehensive coverage with controlled costs. She said the average U.S. family would see nearly a 15 percent reduction in costs as well as "better and comprehensive care." She said her plan would be available for all Americans within a two-year span.
More than 100 members of Congress, including House Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern, have co-sponsored the bill.
The plan has received support from multiple 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Sen. Bernie Sanders -- who introduced his own version of the legislation in the Senate -- and Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke.
A recent Gallup poll found Americans borrowed $88 billion last year to pay for medical care.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla, called it a "radical bill" and said Democrats have "not told us how much this massive new program would cost, who would pay for it, and how much taxes would have to go up ... to pay for this program."
Republicans invited George Mason University senior researcher Charles Blahous and Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner, who have warned about the plan's potential cost, to testify Tuesday.
Blahous published a study for the university's Mercatus Center, which found Medicare for All would add approximately $32.6 trillion to the federal budget during its first 10 years. Turner, in an op-ed, warned about potential consequences of the coverage and taxes.
"Everyone would be required to give up the coverage they have now including 173 million Americans who get health insurance at work and taxes would be much higher to finance the $32 trillion in added government spending over the next decade," she wrote.
During his testimony, Blahous said the plan would cost the average American $10,000.
The list of other witnesses for Tuesday's hearing included experts from the Commonwealth Fund, the Center on Economic and Policy Research and the National Medical Association.
Barkan ended his testimony with an emotional plea to lawmakers.
"We have a once in a generation opportunity to win what we really deserve," he said. "No more half measures. No more healthcare for some. We can win Medicare for All.
This is our Congress. This is our democracy. And this is our future for the making."