Labor Leaders Demand That ‘Single Payer’ Be Part Of Obama Healthcare Reform

Article Date: 05 Mar 2009 – 6:00 PST

The Obama administration’s plans to hold a “Health Care Summit” that excludes advocates of single-payer healthcare reform has drawn a sharp response from labor leaders around the country.

“President Obama has indicated that his administration is committed to the passage of a new ‘universal’ national health care program for all Americans, and he wants it done this year. For working people, and particularly the 48 million Americans curren tly without health insurance, this is welcome news. We also applaud the President’s efforts to provide immediate relief to the growing number of unemployed workers faced with the loss of their health insurance,” said Mark Dudzic, National Coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare.

“At the same time,” he continued, “we are deeply concerned by the apparent failure of the administration to include a single supporter of HR 676 among the 120 invited participants to Thursday’s Health Care Reform Summit. We are calling on our supporters to call and write the White House and demand that our voice be heard.”

HR 676, the “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All” Act, was re-introduced this year by Congressman John Conyers. It currently has 59 congressional co-sponsors. Because it eliminates the private insurance industry from profiting from people’s misfortunes and, like Medicare, establishes the federal government as the “single payer” of everyone’s medical bills, HR 676 can provide healthcare for all with no co-pays or deductibles in a fiscally prudent manner. HR 676 has the endorsement of hundreds of state and local labor federations and local unions as well as many other civic and religious organizations.

“The first step is to ensure that HR 676 has a ’seat at the table’ in the upcoming healthcare reform debates,” said South Carolina AFL-CIO President Donna Dewitt. “It needs to be given the same degree of attention as all other credible proposals for reform and subjected to a side-by-side ‘facts based’ analysis with those proposals.”

Leaders of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer are urging President Obama to consider alternatives which, like Medicare, would not rely on private, for-profit insurance companies to ration health care to the American people. “Proposals which funnel our precious healthcare dollars into the pockets of the for-profit insurance industry and other special interests will do nothing to contain and control costs or improve the quality of care,” said Fernando Gapasin, President of the West Central Oregon Central Labor Council.

Labor leaders from Massachusetts are particularly concerned that their state’s law requiring all individuals to purchase private health insurance is being touted as a model for the nation. “Last month 40 of my fellow union leaders wrote to President Obama to urge him to reject a Massachusetts-style plan that would leave private insurance companies at the center of the system through an individual mandate and expensive public subsidies supported by taxes for plans that still don’t provide enough coverage. The Massachusetts plan is widely recognized as unsustainable and now that we are facing an economic crisis, it is even more problematic.” said Peter Knowlton, president of the Northeast Region of the United Electrical Workers Union (UE).
“If anyone should be excluded from this summit,” said Ray Stever, New Jersey State Industrial Union Council President, “it should be the representatives of the health insurance industry. These are the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. They will move heaven and earth to continue to deny Americans the healthcare justice that citizens of all other industrialized countries enjoy.”

The Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare joins other single payer advocates and organizations who are demanding that their views be represented in the growing debate over health care reform. These include the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Healthcare, Healthcare-NOW, the All Unions Committee for Single Payer, the Physicians for a National Health Program and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee whose Co-president, Geri Jenkins, RN, recently warned, “Any reform premised on expanding the insurance-based system will likely fail, frustrate the public desire for a real solution to our healthcare crisis, and undermine the political capital the administration has earned for reform.”
“That is why it is so important to speak up at this moment,” said Clyde Rivers of the California School Employees Association. “The stakes are too high to allow special interests to hijack a discussion whose outcome will so importantly affect the lives and livelihoods of the American people. We call on President Obama and the leaders of both houses of Congress to give HR 676 the fair and open hearing that it deserves,”

The Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare was formed at a January 10th meeting in St. Louis, Missouri attended by over 150 representatives from labor organizations in 31 states that have endorsed HR 676. We believe that the struggle for universal, single-payer health care needs labor’s dynamic grassroots involvement.
California Nurses Association

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