LaborTalk for January 11, 2011

While Congress Debates the Cost of the Law,
50 Million People Have No Health Insurance

By Harry Kelber

The original health care bill approved by Congress stipulated that some 32 million Americans who had no health insurance would be provided with coverage under the new law. It was a major reason why the bill received such wide public support.

At that point, there were 45 million people who lacked health insurance, so many wondered by what criteria the government would select those who would receive health-care coverage and those who would not.

Since the original law delayed the decision of awarding health coverage until 2014, the problem was put on the back burner, while the Obama administration focused on the immediate benefits of the legislation.

But by 2014, hundreds of thousands of families will have dropped their health coverage, because, with the high cost of premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, they can no longer afford it. And we may wonder how many people will die in the interim because they were without the necessary treatment for their serious illnesses.

Meanwhile, the Republicans, who now control the House, are intent on repealing the health law or, if they fail, to slash its many costly programs, particularly Medicare and Medicaid. It is not at all clear what kind of health legislation the Republicans would offer in place of the present health law. It would be skimpy at best, in order to cut down “wasteful spending.”

The debate between the two parties centers primarily on financial costs rather than uninsured people. The Democrats insist that the health law would reduce the federal budget deficit by $143 billion over 10 years, while dismantling the health law would add $230 billion to the deficit. The Republicans have rejected these figures,

Douglas W. Elmendorf, director of the budget office, explained how the uninsured will be affected by the outcome of the actions of Congress, He said: “If the law is repealed, 32 million fewer people will have health insurance in 2019, compared with estimates of coverage under the existing law. As a result, the number of uninsured would be 54 million, rather than 23 million in 2019.”

The Battle of Polls, Surveys, Statistics and Predictions

The Republicans have countered with their own set of statistics. They put the cost of the health care law “when fully implemented” at $2.6 trillion, and say it would “add $701 billion to the deficit in the first 10 years.” They also predict a loss of jobs.

The AFL-CIO has been among the most stalwart defenders of what the media call “Obamacare.” President Richard Trumka supports the health law, while conceding that it dos not contain everything that labor hoped for.

The AFL-CIO web site provides detailed provisions of the law that benefit working families. It regularly features stories of workers who suffered lifetime injuries or death for lack of medical treatment.

Unions continuously emphasize that, under the law, insurance companies can not reject people with ”pre-existing conditions,” and that family members under age 26 are covered under the insurance policies of their parents. But what value do these provisions have for families that don’t have health insurance or can’t afford to buy it?

* * * * *

What do we do about the 50 million people who have no health insurance? It’s their problem, not the government’s, say the Republicans. If they can’t afford health-care coverage, let them do what poor and elderly people have always done — take care of their emergency health problems as best as they can.

The Democrats refrain from discussing the law’s promise to provide 32 million uninsured people with health coverage. Why talk about it now, as the issue won’t come up until 2014, and we’ll find out that we can’t afford to help the uninsured, and we’ll have other crises that need the government’s attention.

But what about organized labor? Why are the unions talking about people who have the benefits of health care, but saying hardly a word about the 50 million people who are unprotected?

If there are millions of people who can’t find a job or hold on to their homes, or can’t get proper health care or live a bleak life in poverty, what has happened to the promise of America?—Harry Kelber

LaborTalk will be posted here on January 14, 2011 and on our two web sites and on