Press Associates, Inc. (PAI) -- 3/12/2007
AFL-CIO BACKS CHANGING HEALTH CARE SYSTEM, EXPANDING MEDICARE TO WHOLE
By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI)--Armed with universal denunciation of the failing,
creaky, expensive present employer-based insurance-company-run health care
system, the AFL-CIO Executive Council unanimously voted March 6 to
campaign for a massive change: Expanding Medicare to the entire country.
Union leaders ranging from AFSCME President Gerald McEntee to Steel
Workers President Leo Gerard to leaders of building trades unions--even
those with multi-employer health care plans jointly run by unions and
management--blasted the present setup. "We're getting killed by this
stuff," one said.
The vote puts the federation on record with a specific universal health
care plan that would involve payments from individuals, government and
business, with government running it to cut administrative costs and
bargain prices, just as it now runs Medicare.
It also marks a notable break from the past, as unions helped construct
the present system, but watched it become increasingly and overly
expensive for workers and companies--even while 47 million people are
uninsured and millions more are underinsured.
Companies have dropped health care for workers and retirees, and health
care is the #1 battle in bargaining.
And the AFL-CIO's statement marks a new factor in the national debate
about health care, as the nation's leading labor federation has now
weighed in with a specific proposal, insisting that health care cover all,
and rejecting the present system.
"The time for talking about this crisis is past," the federation said.
"All families deserve the security of a universal health care system that
guarantees access based on need rather than income. Health care is a
fundamental human right and an important measure of social justice."
The statement laid down principles of universal coverage, that
"government, as the voice of all of us, must play the central role in
regulating, financing and providing health care," that coverage "should be
accessible through the largest possible groups to ensure coverage" for
all, and that everyone-including employers--must share responsibility for
health care financing.
It then said that "one concrete plan that meets the test of comprehensive,
universal health coverage would build on our nation's successful universal
health coverage plan for seniors: Medicare."
"We tried to look for fundamental principles for cost-efficient,
high-quality universal coverage, taking the load off employers, while we
can create the largest pool" of clients "and have government play the lead
role," said Gerard, chair of the federation's Legislation Committee.
"This is a roadmap to universal coverage, and I'm not interested in having
Wal-Mart sell insurance so that people can go to a Kaiser Permanente
clinic in the store," he added.
After lauding Medicare, which has the federal government provide universal
coverage, paid for through payroll taxes, and with seniors having a choice
of doctors, the AFL-CIO adds expanding it to all "would require updating
and expanding Medicare benefits to fit the working population and
children, as well as negotiating prices with physicians and providers that
families and the country can afford."
In passing, the federation rejected anti-worker GOP President George W.
Bush's scheme to tax workers who get what Bush calls "gold-plated" health
insurance. "Until comprehensive national reform is enacted, we will
continue to defend health benefits workers have fought and sacrificed to
establish over the last 50 years," the federation said. Bush would tax
those plans, pushing many companies to dump them.
While the leaders did not endorse any specific bill to change the nation's
health care system, AFL-CIO health care policy specialist Gerald Shea said
several fit its proposal. They include the single-payer government-run
health care system bill (HR 676) by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and
Medicare-for-all bills crafted by Senate Labor Committee Chairman Edward
M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), House Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell
(D-Mich.) and House Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark (D-Calif.).
"Conyers would put single-payer in place, while the others would build on
Medicare," Shea said. Those other bills would extend Medicare to the
whole country, but still leave a role for private insurers, said Walter
and Kay Tillow, who handle communications for the Louisville-based Nurses
Professional Organization/All-Unions Committee for Single-Payer Health
That group has convinced at least four unions, including USW, the
International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Plumbers and
Pipefitters, to back HR 676. Some 220 other union groups, with the latest
being the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, back Conyers' bill. The Tillows said their
group welcomes the statement as "a big advance" over the present system,
but criticized leaving a role for the private insurers.
Shea said the key to the federation's getting support for extending
Medicare to all is to recruit some employers. Employers in the aerospace,
telecommunications, steel and paper industries have talked to their unions
about backing the Medicare-for-all plan, but nothing has been put in