Thinking of Labor's Future: May 8, 2012

49.9 Million People Lack Health Insurance;
Where Do We Get the Funds to Cover Them?

“Thinking about Labor’s Future”

(The Third in a Series of articles)

By Harry Kelber

There was considerable jubilation among Democrats when President Obama signed the health care bill in 2009. They singled out two provisions in the bill which gave the public significant protection against greedy insurance companies:

(1) Prohibit denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions;

(2) Help young adults by requiring insurers to allow all dependents to remain on their parents’ plan until the age of 26.

There were other provisions of the law that had their supporters and critics, but there was no agreement on what to do about the many millions of people who had no health insurance and who used hospital emergency rooms when they needed medical care.

Republicans said the costs of the health care law should come from more spending cuts, singling out Medicare as an example. The Democrats wanted a tax on the very rich to supply the necessary revenue to cover national health costs The problem still remains unresolved.

It’s important to note that the provisions of the health law don’t become operative until 2014. By then, all Americans must have health care coverage or pay a fine. Subsidies would be offered to help those making less than $44,000, or $88,000 for a family of four.’

Fines for not complying with the health coverage “mandate” would be $95 in 2014, gradually rising to $695 by 2016. This provision would clearly put an extra burden on the families of low-income workers. who can’t afford health insurance and would have to pay the proposed fine.

There is growing confusion about various aspects of the health law. The “mandate “ provision has aroused a storm of opposition. In fact. the very existence of the Obama health law is in jeopardy. The Supreme Court is considering whether the 2009 law is constitutional.

Union Members Face Problems in Protecting Health Plans

Unionized workers are becoming increasingly nervous about their health plans. Employers are insisting on raising union contributions to their joint health plans. Many employers are in a position where they can change current health plans or drop them altogether.

To protect the future health needs of their members, an increasing number of unions and allied organizations are promoting the idea of a single-payer health insurance system , where all Americans will be covered by an improved Medicare plan.

A bill, H.R. 676, introduced in Congress by Rep. John Conyers (Dem. Mich.) calls for universal healthcare coverage under a single-payer system. It would eliminate hundreds of insurance companies with their different rates and provisions.

H.R. 676, would restore free choice of physicians to patients and provide all necessary medical care , including prescription drugs and dentals. It ends deductibles and co-payments, and saves hundreds of billions by eliminating the private health insurance industry, with its loaded overhead and unlimited profits.

Starting as a grassroots movement in 2007, H.R. 676 has achieved phenomenal growth because of its obvious advantages. It has been endorsed by 590 labor organizations in 49 states—and is continuing to grow. Among its endorses are 22 international unions, 40 state AFL-CIOs, 140 central labor councils and hundreds of local unions.

The last AFL-CIO convention, (2009) endorsed the single payer plan, although many of its top leaders have been reluctant to work publicly for its passage. They note that President Obama is not supporting single-payer, and they do not wish to oppose him. The AFL-CIO is downplaying any discussion of H.R. 676. on its web site and public statements.

* * * * *

The unions of tomorrow have the obligation to make the health of working people one of their top priorities. They can use a continuous single-payer campaign to reach out to millions of unorganized workers, who will be faced with health problems and lack the money to deal with them. The health issue may provide an excellent way to persuade workers to join unions.

Numerous polls have shown that the single-payer plan is popular with the public by large margins. Unions should try to involve communities to demand that Congress enact H.R 676.

The United States has a worldwide reputation for paying a lot more than major industrial countries for its healthcare programs--and getting far less for its money in terms of healthcare services.

Can’t the unions of tomorrow do better than that?

The fourth in our series on “Thinking about Labor’s Future” will be posted here on Tuesday, May 15, 2012, and on our two web sites: and on