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Unions Can Lead the Struggle for Single-Payer Health Care

12:21 pm in Uncategorized by Kay Tillow

Despite passage of the 2010 health care reform bill, employers continue to push for cuts in benefits and to shift costs to workers in higher monthly payments, co-pays, and deductibles.

Wage increases are always trumped by this costly health care monster. Some employers, in anticipation of the $2,000 annual fine for not offering health insurance, are threatening to drop coverage and instead pay the cheaper fine.

Many companies are dropping benefits for spouses, retirees, and part-timers. Current law does not stop them. Multiemployer plans are disadvantaged by the preferable treatment available to the plans of non-union employers. The 2018 excise tax will cap the ability to bargain better health benefits. Insurance companies continue to decide what doctors and hospitals workers can use.

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Unions are playing in a ball park where the odds are stacked against them, a field dominated by private health insurance companies. Unions need a new arena where they can win the battle, improve coverage, and secure it once and for all.

Unions Have a Big Stake in Winning Single-Payer

  • Currently, nonunion employers undercut union ones by avoiding health care coverage. Ending this unfair advantage will be, like prevailing wage law, a crucial step for progress.
  • With single payer, unions’ ability to win contract struggles will be enhanced.  Now, for many unions, health coverage ends within 30 days of a work stoppage or lockout, placing outrageous pressure on workers to settle for less. With single payer, health coverage never ends.
  • With single payer in effect, unions, including those with multiemployer plans, can use their health care bargaining power to improve pensions, sick pay, and other benefits as well as wages.
  • Some union retirees currently have health benefits through VEBA’s. Many of these retirees are in jeopardy of benefit cuts due to rising health costs and limited VEBA funding.  With single payer the problem is solved.
  • Currently, many workers are fearful of organizing because they are afraid to risk losing health insurance coverage.  That risk will be gone with single payer.
  • Labor can win respect and gain support from those who are not in unions by defending not only its own members but by leading the fight for health care for all.
  • In countries that have a form of single payer universal care, a higher percentage of the workers are in unions. In 2011, rates of unionization were: Sweden  67.5%, Canada 26.8%, United Kingdom 25.6%, U. S. 11.3%. 

The Whole Country Wins with Single Payer

Union members are not the only ones in jeopardy now. Our states and cities are strapped by the health insurance burden that siphons public funds from education, jobs, and all the beneficial programs we need.

There’s nothing inevitable about the costly health insurance system we have in the U.S. where private insurance companies dictate what physicians workers can see and what claims to deny.

In fact, the U. S. is the only major industrialized nation that doesn’t have some type of national, universal health care.

Did You Know?

  • According to President Bill Clinton, the U.S. could save $1 trillion per year by adopting the health system of any other advanced country
  • The U.S. spends about twice as much per person on health care as other industrialized nations, yet our life expectancy, infant mortality, and other outcomes fall short.
  • 16% to 20% of the big private insurance companies’ premiums are wasted on marketing, CEO salaries, profits, paperwork and bureaucracy rather than health care services.
  • Drug prices in countries with national health systems are a third to a half lower than in the U.S.
  • Over 30 million will remain without health insurance even when the health reform bill (ACA) is fully implemented.
  • About 31% of U.S. health spending is on administration, most of it waste.
  • Tens of thousands of Americans die every year because of no health care coverage, and millions more, including those with insurance, forego care because of the cost.
  • Studies show a single-payer health care system would save $400 billion annually, enough to cover all the uninsured and to upgrade everyone’s coverage.
  • Under our employer-based system, if you lose your job, you lose your health insurance too — just when you need it the most!
  • More than half of personal bankruptcies are attributable to illness and medical bills.
  • With single payer, each person chooses their physicians, other caregivers, and hospitals.

The “Expanded & Improved Medicare for all Act,” H.R. 676

Congressman John Conyers Jr.(D-Mich.) has introduced H.R. 676 into every Congress since 2003.

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Happy 49th Medicare, Improve It, Expand It to All, HR 676

10:13 pm in Uncategorized by Kay Tillow

Louisville Celebrated Medicare’s Birthday

Lighting Up the Night from the Big Four Bridge

Thousands attending a riverside concert on July 30, 2014, saw the message curving across the city skyline.  Louisville joined dozens of cities in celebration of our nation’s best health program.

We must protect Medicare for it has lifted generations of seniors from poverty, made the hospitals of the South integrate because Medicare could not be collected by those who segregated, brought dialysis to all with kidney failure, and shown that this public program works efficiently and saves money.

Yet we must improve Medicare for even with it some cannot afford care–it does not cover dental, nor hearing aids, nor nursing homes, co-pays and deductibles are growing, many drugs are very expensive, and there is growing privatization through for-profit Medicare Advantage plans.

And we must expand Medicare so that every person, regardless of age, has health care.  By passing HR 676, national single payer health care, we will protect and secure Medicare, save billions annually, and bring improved care to all making health care a human right.

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Looking under the ramp of the Big Four Bridge towards downtown Louisville.

On July 30, 2014, as part of the nationwide celebration of Medicare’s Birthday, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) spoke about HR 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All, on the floor of the Congress.

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Lawrence Winburn, Jr. and his daughter holding the lighted letters high up on the ramp.

Two additional representatives signed on to HR 676 in July, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Congresswoman Katherine M. Clark (D-MA) bringing the total of co-sponsors to 60.

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A view to the east with Louisville’s latest attraction, the Big Four Bridge for walkers and bicyclists.

The people have to place the issue on the nation’s agenda. The demand must become so overwhelming that there is a seismic change in what is possible. Earthquakes happen after a build up of pressure. Call your congressperson and ask her or him to sign on to HR 676. This is the switchboard. Ask for your rep by name. 1-202-224-3121


Scotty Pulliam, Dr. Garrett Adams, Keith Rouda, and Mark McKinley carry the big lighted boards.

There are additional photos of this event here.

The lighted signs were made and carried by the members and friends of Kentuckians for Single Payer Health Care.
Find us and like us on Facebook. Thanks to the OverpassLightBrigade and to Leslie Harris of the North Texas Light Brigade for sharing their ideas and experience.

Vicco, Ky, Stays in Spotlight, Endorses Single Payer, HR 676

4:48 pm in Uncategorized by Kay Tillow

After 22 years in the coal mines, Jimmy Slone is still working—now as a City Commissioner for Vicco, Kentucky. His black lung disease does not stop him from getting up in the middle of the night to assure that the city’s water system is safe. He and his fellow commissioners volunteer their time to better their town. They show the courage of their convictions in other ways. They voted to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and have called on the nation to pass Single Payer Health Care, HR 676, Congressman John Conyers’ Improved Medicare for All bill.

Jimmy Slone, City Commissioner, Vicco, Kentucky

 

Press Release, Kentuckians for Single Payer Health Care

January 30, 2014

VICCO, Ky—This little Appalachian community that made national news a year ago by passing a Fairness Ordinance did it again tonight. It voted to endorse Single Payer Healthcare, HR 676, joining 54 other American cities, including Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore.

The struggling coal town of 334 people unanimously endorsed Expanded and Improved Medicare for All, HR 676, national single payer legislation sponsored by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI). Vicco—established by the Virginia Iron Coal and Coke Company—is now the fourth Kentucky local government to favor Single Payer Healthcare. The others are Metro Louisville, Boyle County, and the City of Morehead. In 2007, the Kentucky House legislators also endorsed the bill.

Vicco was put on the map early last year when the New York Times, USA Today, the LA Times and other national media covered the passage of the town’s new law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It was the smallest city in America to pass such a law.

Vicco gained further fame last August when Mayor Johnny Cummings and City Commissioners were featured on the Colbert Show on cable television. The Colbert Segment went viral with almost three quarters of a million views.

Since then, Vicco Mayor Johnny Cummings and the city commissioners have won further state and national praise. At an event that featured Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan last September, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto referred to Vicco when he described Kentucky as a place “deep in values that show up in unexpected ways and in unexpected places.”

Vicco’s new-found reputation as a progressive and humane community led to a presentation Monday night on health care by Dr. Garrett Adams, past president of Physicians for a National Health Program, and three Louisville colleagues, all representing Kentuckians for Single Payer Healthcare (KSPH).

The KSPH members pointed out that every person in Vicco—and everywhere else in the United States—would be covered by a plan similar to but better than the Medicare system that now serves those over 65 years of age. The HR 676 bill would expand Medicare to all ages and would improve it to include dental, vision, mental health–all medically necessary care. Patients would choose their own doctors and hospitals and there would be no co-pays or deductibles. HR 676 would annually save over $400 billion by ending the profits and waste caused by private insurance companies. The savings would then be used to expand an improved care to everyone in the country.

Kay Tillow, Chair of KSPH, said, “It’s a moral issue. We believe that health care should not depend on ability to pay. We invite other cities to join our grassroots movement.”

The Vicco city commissioners decided to throw the weight of the town government behind this movement.

NEWS CONTACT:

Kentuckians for Single Payer Health Care
(502) 636 1551 nursenpo@aol.com

Quilt on the wall at the Vicco City Hall

Text of the Resolution under the seal of the City of Vicco

Whereas: Barriers to quality medical care infringe on the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and access to health care is a fundamental human right, and;

Whereas a bill has been introduced in Congress, HR 676, aka The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, that will provide all medically necessary care, including dental and prescription drugs, to everyone in the country from birth to death. There will be no co-pays nor deductibles so that inability to pay will be removed as an impediment to care.

Whereas with HR 676 each person will choose their own physicians, hospitals, and other providers.

Therefore be it resolved that the City of Vicco wholeheartedly endorses HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act; and

Be it further resolved that we call on our representative in Congress, Representative Harold Rogers, to formally co-sponsor HR 676 so that the people of our city, our state, and our nation can move forward toward the excellent health care we deserve.

Signatories:
Mayor Johnny Cummings
Claude Branson, Commissioner
Lula Regina Gibson, Commissioner
Jimmy Slone, Commissioner

 

Discretionary Deeming: How One Town Got Improved Medicare

9:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kay Tillow

Buried deep in the health reform law is Section 10323. It amends the Social Security Act to extend Medicare coverage to individuals exposed to environmental health hazards in the region defined by the Emergency Declaration of June 17, 2009. That declaration limits this benefit to the area around Libby, Montana.

Downtown Libby, Montana

Asbestos victims in Libby, Montana deserve single payer healthcare. But don’t we all?

Section 10323 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) calls it “deeming of Individuals as eligible for Medicare benefits.” People do not have to be age 65, or wait two years following disability, or to have paid into the Medicare system. The victims of asbestos in Libby were simply “deemed” to be eligible for Medicare. It was described as “discretionary deeming.”

Senator Max Baucus, Chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, who hired insurance executive Liz Fowler to write the health reform act, slipped Section 10323 into the law assuring that all those with asbestos-related conditions in the community around Libby, Montana get into Medicare, our single payer program for all those over 65. Further, for this designated group of Montanans, Baucus arranged additional special benefits not normally available to Medicare patients.

Baucus “deemed” single payer off the table

It’s true. Senator Baucus “deemed” single payer off the table during the 2009 health care debate. He had physicians and others arrested for insisting that single payer be included in the nation’s discussion. Baucus effectively locked out any consideration of such a plan. But he gave our country’s single payer program, Medicare, to the people of Libby.  And they got free drugs, too.

The victims of asbestos exposure in Libby, regardless of age, are eligible for traditional Medicare, plus, under an additional program that Baucus included in the ACA, the government also pays for services not included under Medicare, such as home care, medical equipment, counseling, help with travel, and medications not covered by Medicare prescription plans.

Insurance companies use co-pays to exclude the sick

Coverage of drugs can be crucial. Outrageous drug prices continue to threaten all who depend on costly medications.  While the ACA bars health insurance plans from refusing to cover those who are sick, insurance companies have found ways to keep patients with cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, AIDS, and other conditions out of their plans. Some insurance companies have made the co-pays on the drugs needed by such patients as high as $1,000 to $6,000 a month, effectively excluding those with pre-existing conditions.

Goodness knows the people of Libby deserve to have Medicare—with free drugs and home care and medical equipment and help with travel and much more. After all, the W. R. Grace company whose vermiculite mine poisoned their entire region left thousands, not just the miners, suffering and dying.

But the senator who helped Libby also made certain that all the rest of us would be left out—that the nation could not even consider the merits of HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, that would free our country from the health insurance companies that continue to hold us hostage.

The Libby solution, single payer

As health reform rolls into a new stage where some who have been left out find help but millions more, both insured and uninsured, find the costs of care still beyond their means, let us look to the Libby solution, publicly-funded single payer, for the answer.

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Only an uprising can save us from Social Security Cuts

4:24 pm in Uncategorized by Kay Tillow

 In his recent proposal, President Obama included a change in the cost of living adjustment (COLA) that will make cuts in Social Security benefits.  Ugly, hurtful cuts. 

This COLA cut is called Chained CPI.  It would do real damage by changing the formula used to calculate the COLA. 

It’s a real and harmful cut to the Social Security benefits you have earned.

The Chained CPI COLA cuts benefits more every year.  After 10 years, your benefits would be cut by about $500 a year for the average retiree.  After 20 years, your benefits would be cut by about $1,000 a year. 

Switching to the Chained CPIwould hurt both current and future beneficiaries.

Social Security should not be part of any such deal anyway.  By law, it can’t contribute to the budget deficit.  It’s only permitted to spend money from the Social Security trust fund, as affirmed by Clinton’s Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.   

Speaker Boehner and President Obama are tussling over a deal that would save around $1 trillion over 10 years.  Yet Bill Clinton has admitted that the U. S.could save that amount, $1 trillion,–in one year and each and every year, not 10 years–by adopting the health care system of any other advanced nation.   

Astounding, but true.  To end the deficit and bring care to all, Congress could simply pass Congressman John Conyers’ bill, HR 676, national single payer health care.  No cuts, no agonizing, no problem. 

In the meantime, only an uprising can persuade President Obama and Congress that we will not stand for these social security cuts—nor any other cuts to Medicare or Medicaid—the programs won through generations of struggles for a better life.

Tell President Obama that the Chained CPI is unacceptable. 

Call the White House (202) 456-1111. 

Call your Senators and representative with the same message:  202-224-3121.  

You can put in your zip code and find them here

“I’m telling you this so that everyone is very clear:  if you want to save Social Security from serious benefit cuts that will cause seniors to go hungry and have their utilities shut off, you have to act. You have to rise up and raise hell, because otherwise this train is going down the tracks — it won’t be stopped unless a lot of people get in the way NOW,” said Mike Lux, author of “The Progressive revolution:  How the Best in America Came to be.”  

He asks everyone to make the calls, then adds:

“But it is going to take people doing more. Make sure your parents, grandparents, and everyone else you know does something. Talk to people at work and at church and everywhere you go….  Show up at your congressperson’s office and let them know what you think. Organize a picket outside that congressional office.

“Do not hold anything back if you care about this issue. And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us raise some hell, this train headed down the track to cutting Social Security benefits, to taking money out of the hands of vulnerable innocents who had nothing to do with the deficits, will be forced to stop.”   

This message is brought to you by:

All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care–HR 676
c/o Nurses Professional Organization (NPO)
1169 Eastern Parkway, Suite 2218
Louisville, KY 40217

Email: nursenpo@aol.com
http://unionsforsinglepayer.org

Post election deficit deal threatens Medicare and Social Security

2:46 pm in Uncategorized by Kay Tillow

Sitting with starlings (photo: Monocle / flickr)

The solution is Improved Medicare for All

After the November election, there will be a major effort in Congress to pass a budget deal that will make cuts in Social Security, raise the Medicare and Social Security eligibility age, and perhaps more–unless we act to stop it with a solution that is close at hand. 

There is agreement from the Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel to liberal economists Dean Baker and Paul Krugman that the pressure will be on to reach a Simpson/Bowles type of compromise.  Such a bipartisan plan would damage our most cherished programs and excuse the dastardly deed by asserting that the cuts are small and necessary because of the deficit. 

Those who relentlessly scream at us and finance ads to persuade us that the deficit threatens our grandchildren are obscuring the truth.  The fact is that the transfer of wealth from public funds and the rest of us to the super rich is the real crisis.  But those who have gorged themselves on this massive transfer of wealth also seek to undermine the Medicare and Social Security which are our grandchildren’s heritage from generations of struggles for a better life.

The projected cuts are not minor but very harmful.  Even a small decrease in the Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment would deliver an ever increasing downward push on benefits while corporations continue to threaten secure pensions by turning them into lump sums that will fade with the stock market. 

Raising the Medicare age to 67 would be disastrous.  There will be no affordable health insurance for those in their 60’s.  The Affordable Care Act allows private insurance companies to charge premiums three times higher based on age.  Under popular pressure, there were regulations placed into the health care reform bill to stop insurance companies from charging higher premiums based on pre-existing conditions.  But the companies were allowed to charge three times the premium based on age.  

Because of this allowed age discrimination, the Kaiser Foundation estimates that an individual of age 60 in 2014 with an annual income of $50,000 will pay a health insurance premium of  over $10,000, or over 20% of income.  That does not include out-of-pocket costs which can add up to an additional $6,000 annually.  That brings the total to 32% of income—a bankrupting figure. 

There is a solution that the single payer movement must place on the nation’s table.   Even Bill Clinton said that we could save $1 trillion a year if we adopted the health care system of any of the other developed countries in the world.  No more stewing over the deficit!

An Expanded and Improved Medicare for All, HR 676, would save Medicare, end the uncontrolled, gargantuan rise in all health care costs, ease the deficit pressure, and actually bring universal health care to the nation.  

This single payer legislation, HR 676, introduced by Congressman John Conyers and co-sponsored by 76 representatives, would divert $400 billion annually from profits and waste generated by the private health insurance industry into care for all.  Care would be expanded and costs bought under control through bulk purchasing, global budgeting, and the elimination of administrative expenses forced upon our system in the pursuit of profit. 

Doctors would be freed from insurance industry interference with care.  Patients would be freed to choose their physicians.  Dental, eyeglasses, hearing aids, prescription drugs, long term care, doctors, hospitals, home health, mental health—all medically necessary care would be included.  Our health care costs would stop driving us over the cliff and level off just asCanada’s did when that country fully implemented their single payer health care. 

Co-pays and deductibles would be banned ending today’s growing problem that health insurance policies are so miserly that even the insured forego care because they can’t afford it.

Our country spends about twice per capita what other industrialized nations spend on health care, yet our health care system lags far behind at number 37 in the world. 

So why are we even debating cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid when the solution is at hand that would bring us both better care and cost controls?  HR 676, an improved Medicare for All, is sitting in the Congress, awaiting the rising of a movement that will insist upon its passage.

Kay Tillow

All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care–HR 676

GOP Health Expert: Medical Industry to ‘Boom’ Under New Law

6:34 am in Uncategorized by Kay Tillow

The Republican Party recently told its leaders to call the Obama administration’s new health law “Exhibit A” of a “runaway Washington government.”

But that’s not how longtime GOP health expert Thomas Scully sees it.

“The bill signed by Obama is not a big-government takeover,” Scully told a pro-business audience in Louisville, Ky., last month, adding the new law will result in “an explosive boom for the medical industry.”

Scully, a staunch Republican who worked in George H.W. Bush’s White House and was later President George W. Bush’s top administrator for Medicare and Medicaid, said, “The health care reform bill that passed in March is very much like the Bush 1 plan. I know. Richard Darman and I wrote that 1992 plan.”

Scully, who now works in the private sector, was the keynote speaker at a gathering of health industry entrepreneurs sponsored by the Health Enterprises Network, an affiliate of the local Chamber of Commerce, here on May 27.

Three of us from Kentuckians for Single Payer Healthcare attended the forum, curious to see what the reform looks like to those who seek financial fortune in the health industry.

For-profit companies win, taxpayers lose

Early in his talk, Scully projected a slide on a large screen with a smiley face over the left seven-eighths of the frame and a frowning face over the right eighth.

Under the smiley face were the “winners” under the health law, including the private health insurance firms, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, dialysis and hospice companies, and disease management groups. Also listed were the device manufacturers who would pay a special tax but would simply pass it on to others and come out ahead. Home health care would take a hit in the short run but prosper in the long run, he said.

On the far right-hand side of the slide, under the frowning face, was the sole “loser”: the taxpayers. (In case you’re wondering, patients didn’t even make the slide.)

While complimenting the bill’s backers for their shrewdness (“The bill is politically smart — the doctors, drug companies and hospitals were bought off early”), he said the new law’s main weakness was its inability to control spending.

“In 10 years there will be $1.5 trillion in new spending,” a half-trillion dollars more than the administration has projected, he said. In short, the law is “a fiscal disaster,” and U.S. taxpayers will end up paying for it.

“Someone will have to raise the Medicare and Social Security age to 70, and we will have to have tax increases,” he said.

His prediction of devastating changes to these cherished social safety-net programs caused no stir in a room full of people sporting health industry badges.

Scully should have some insight into the implications of health reform for taxpayers and businesses. In 2003, when he was administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), he withheld from Congress the real costs of the Medicare Modernization Act, which barely passed in an arm-twisting vote.

The bill blocked Medicare from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies, something that has since proven wildly lucrative for insurers and drug makers. The Medicare Modernization Act also gave away the store to the privatized Medicare Advantage plans.

Along these same lines, Scully told the audience, “We need to turn all of Medicare over to Medicare Advantage.”

Likes Obama plan

Scully said he was a big fan of the Obama plan, but he confessed that it was not his first choice in health reform: “Of course, the Wyden plan is really the best thing to do — it gets rid of Medicare and Medicaid — that is the totally right thing to do.”

The bill offered last year by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would have put health care financing entirely in the hands of private insurers, with mandatory individual purchase taking the place of employer-sponsored coverage.

Nonetheless, Scully was clearly pleased with the bill passed by the Democrats, which reinforces, not undermines, profit-seeking in health care.

Scully’s last words at the meeting were, “All is driven by money.”

We left even more determined to build the movement for single payer.

Kay Tillow is a native of western Kentucky and is a leader of All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care–HR 676.