Labor's Voice for Change (6) January 22, 2009

Unions Strongly Endorse H.R.676,
A Non-Profit Health-Care Plan for All

By Harry Kelber

After years of national debate, health-care insurance remains one of the most pressing problems facing our nation.While there is a consensus that the health insurance system needs to be reformed and that every American should have coverage, there is no agreement about which plan to choose, how comprehensive it should be, how it would be operated, and what it would cost.

Most of the health-care plans being publicized, including President Obama’s, accept a strong role for the private insurance industry.The one exception is the United States National Health Insurance Act, introduced in Congress by Rep.John Conyers (Dem.,Mich), as H.R.676, commonly referred to as “Single Payer.”

H.R.676 would eliminate co-payments and deductibles and other charges that provide billions of dollars in profits for the insurance industry, money that can be used for actual health care.The overhead of insurance companies is far greater than that of government agencies, and you can be sure that the CEOs and the top management staff are generously compensated with the money from rising premiums.They can also boost their earning by denying claims and insisting on exclusions.Let’s remember, their major concern is not our health, but their profits.

Eliminating the private insurance industry is only one of several reasons why there has been such phenomenal support for H.R.676.Nearly 600 labor groups have endorsed the legislation, including 20 national unions, 39 state federations and 119 central labor councils.

H.R.676 would provide health-care insurance for all Americans.It would be a blessing to the 47 million people who don’t have coverage and the additional millions of our citizens who are on the verge of losing coverage because of ever rising premiums from private insurance companies.

H.R.676 would make an expanding and improved Medicare system available to all of us, including the right to choose our own doctors, as well as offering comprehensive medical, surgical and outpatient services, plus dental care and a prescription drug plan for the young as well as for retirees.

A single public payer, the federal government, would replace the more than 1,500 private insurers that are now dealt with separately.H.R.676 would create a single insurer in each state, locally controlled, but subject to stringent federal standards.

Physicians for a National Health Program estimates that a universal, quality-level health-care plan could be financed by a 7 percent payroll tax, a 2 percent income tax and current federal payments for Medicare.Medicaid and other state and federal government insurance programs.The U.S.Government Accountability Office has estimated that savings in administrative costs would offset much of that expense.

Despite the extraordinary support given to H.R.676, hardly a word about it has been mentioned in the AFL-CIO NOW Website, in the numerous stories it carries on the health care crisis. That’s because AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and some of his colleagues on the Executive Council oppose H.R.676.The Web director, Tula Connell, abides by the long-standing rule that you don’t publish anything that even remotely criticizes Sweeney.

I believe there should be an open debate on health insurance at the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh, during which the supporters of H.R.676 should have their say and demand a roll-call vote on the issue.

Article 7 on “Labor’s Voice for Change” will deal with “The Right to Join.” It will be posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2009.