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Schumer on Healthcare Constitutional Amendment, Single-Payer: 'First Step' is Preserving Obamacare

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks to healthcare activists at a rally outside the Capitol on Sept. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to offer outright support for a constitutional amendment to guarantee healthcare as a right, arguing that his current priority is blocking Obamacare repeal.

Democratic lawmakers such as Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) have said that healthcare is a right and not a privilege.

McCollum has formally proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would make healthcare a right for all Americans. “Health care, including care to prevent and treat illness, is the right of all citizens of the United States and necessary to ensure the strength of the Nation,” reads the amendment. “The Congress shall have power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

Schumer was asked if he would support such an amendment.

“Well, we want to beat this bill, first and foremost,” Schumer responded after speaking on Capitol Hill at a “Stop Trumpcare Again” rally about his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson healthcare reform bill that’s pending in the Senate.

Under the Graham-Cassidy bill, block grants to states would replace the existing insurance subsidies in Obamacare. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said states that prefer keeping Obamacare in place would be able to do so while other states could design their own healthcare system. He also said the bill maintains the tax increases on the wealthy that are currently part of Obamacare.

The Graham-Cassidy bill eliminates the Obamacare individual mandate that requires every American to purchase health insurance. Democratic lawmakers opposing the bill cite a lack of protections for people with pre-existing conditions since insurers could charge people more for coverage due to their medical history.

MoveOn.org, Planned Parenthood, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, AFL-CIO and other advocacy groups sponsored the rally.

When asked if he supports a single-payer healthcare system in America, Schumer responded, “The first step is to beat this.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said during the rally that healthcare is a right and not a privilege. PJM asked Harris if that should be enshrined in a constitutional amendment. She responded that healthcare should be considered a “civil right” in America, regardless of whether or not the Constitution is amended.

“I don’t know. I don’t question that it is a fundamental right and should be thought of as a civil right and not something that is other than that. Healthcare should be thought of as a right and not a privilege. There’s no question about that,” said Harris, the former attorney general of California.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told PJM he’s “focused on stopping Graham Cassidy right now, so I am not thinking about constitutional amendments right now.”

“I am thinking about trying to stop this bill from becoming law,” he said.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told PJM he supports a constitutional amendment that would guarantee every American the right to healthcare.

“I’m fine with that. The immediate focus – preserve the Affordable Care Act, improve it and let’s get universal coverage, affordable healthcare, that’s our priority. A constitutional amendment will take time. I have no problems with guaranteeing basic rights in our Constitution. We have the Bill of Rights that does that. I believe healthcare is a human right,” he said as he left the rally.

“It’s a basic right, so I have no problems with it being protected by the Constitution. We might want to get gender equity first in our Constitution because we don’t have that right now, and I filed an amendment to get that done, but I’m all for protections. But we don’t want to lose focus of what we’ve got to get done right now,” he added, referring to efforts to stop the latest GOP attempt to replace Obamacare.

In January, Cardin introduced the Equal Rights Amendment that would guarantee “gender equality” in America. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) introduced the House version of the resolution.