Labor's Voice for Change (31) April 30, 2009

AFL-CIO’s Health-Care Survey Ignores
‘Single Payer’ Plan Favored by Unions

By Harry Kelber

An AFL-CIO-sponsored on line health care survey of 26,419 respondents, more than half of them union members, reveals a widespread discontent with the cost, benefits and operating procedures of current health insurance plans. The survey, taken between Jan. 14 and March 3, shows that “ninety-four percent of the insured say the health care system needs fundamental change or to be rebuilt.”

Curiously, the survey makes no mention of the Single Payer (H.R. 676) health care system or Medicare as possible options that the respondents were never asked. Those questions were left out, says Amaya Smith, survey director, “for no particular reason.”

H.R. 676, introduced in Congress by Representative John Conyers (Dem.-Mich.) has been gathering sensational support from unions across the country. It has already been endorsed by 512 union organizations in 49 states. That includes 39 AFL-CIO-affiliated State Federations and 125 Central Labor Councils. The Service Employees International Union and other Change to Win internationals have also endorsed it.

Surely, Single Payer is worth at least an occasional story on the AFL-CIO’s Web, but none has appeared. Instead, it has been totally ignored. The health care advantages that H.R, 676 has to offer have been given only limited coverage in the labor media, despite the strong record of union endorsements. Why? The short answer is that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and his close associates are supporting a universal health care plan that would include profit-making insurance companies and HMOs.

Under H.R. 676, a single public payer would replace the many hundreds of private, for profit insurance companies, each with an expensive bureaucracy and a different set of rules, that is focused on making money for the company rather than the health of their customers. The billions that could be saved from the continuing increases in premiums, co-payments and deductibles could be used to cut costs or improve health care services.

For those who are unfamiliar with Single Payer, H.R. 676 would provide every resident in the United States with an expanded and greatly improved Medicare system. It would cover every person for all necessary medical care, including prescription drugs, hospital, surgical, outpatient services, as well as dental, substance abuse, mental and other health problems. No insurance company bureaucrat would come between you and your doctor.

Let’s Have an Open Dialogue on the AFL-CIO’s Web Site

Health care insurance, particularly for the tens of millions of people who don’t have any, is one of the most important issues worrying working families. It is a good sign that there is general agreement among our unions that our current health care system needs to be reformed. There is also consensus that some form of universal health care insurance is necessary, but which plan?

The Sweeney camp believes that Congress won’t pass a bill for universal coverage without a clear role for the powerful insurance companies. On the other hand, the Single Payer advocates say that the insurance companies are part of the problem, not the solution. Letting them participate in any eventual health care plan would retain the abuses and shortcomings that working families currently encounter in protecting their health.

It will be interesting to see how the health care issue is debated and voted upon at the AFL-CIO’s 2009 convention in Pittsburgh, less than five months away. The odds are that there will be a general resolution of support for universal health care insurance, but it will stop short of making a specific recommendation.

Strange things have happened before at AFL-CIO conventions, where a vote called for at a critical time on a particular issue can decide the outcome of an election of officers. It will be worth watching how the health care issue is played out at this convention.

Article 32 of “Labor’s Voice for Change will appear on Tuesday, May 5, 2009.