LaborTalk for May 13, 2011

New Single-Payer Health-Care Bill
Offers Coverage for All Americans

By Harry Kelber

A bill to provide health-care coverage for all Americans through a federal single-payer system has been introduced in Congress by Senator Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt) and Rep. Jim McDermott. (Dem-Wash).

Of the industrialized nations, only the United States does not have a national system of health-care for their citizens.

Under the new bill, known as the Health Security Act, the federal government sets the basic framework for the system, including national standards on benefits, quality and access to care. States are given flexibility to implement health-care reform within the federal framework, including designing and monitoring the system.

The Act, however, clearly lays out each player's responsibilities under the health-care plan. States must identify one or more alliances to serve as purchasing agents for health-care insurance. The board of each regional alliance consists of employers and consumers, but providers are specifically prohibited from sitting on a regional alliance.

The benefits package consists of the following items and services: hospital services, services of health professionals, emergency ambulatory medical and surgical services, clinical preventive services, mental health and substance abuse services, and services for pregnant women, hospice care, home health care, extended care services, outpatient laboratory, radiology and diagnostic services, outpatient prescription drugs and biologicals, outpatient rehabilitation services, durable medical equipment and prosthetic and orthotic devices, vision care, dental care, health education classes, and investigational treatments.

The Act spells out what part of a premium will be paid by a full-time, part-time and unemployed worker and what the employer will pay in each case. Full-time employees pay a maximum of 20 percent of the premium. The Act tries to deal with every type of situation that may occur in administering the health-care system.

AFL-CIO Endorses New 'Single-Payer' Bill

Last year, when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, it was considered a "historic milestone on our path toward a more just society," says AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt-Baker, "but we also know that much work is left to be done."

Although the AFL-CIO had been enthusiastic defenders of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, it has now decided to endorse the new federal "single- payer" bill, the Health Security Act, which would provide comprehensive health-care for all Americans.

The AFL-CIO action came after supporters of universal coverage had convinced 581 union organizations in 49 states, 135 central labor councils and hundreds of local unions to join in the campaign. for H .R. 676, the original single-payer bill introduced by Rep. John Conyers (Dem-Mich).

Speaking at a Capitol Hill Press conference, Holt-Baker said: "We in the labor movement have long insisted that health care is a fundamental human right and an important measure of social justice. And for more than 100 years, we have fought for universal health care coverage based on a social insurance model, an approach that has proven to be cost effective and efficient in countries across the globe."

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When Rep. John Conyers (Dem-Mich) introduced a bill to create a single-payer health-care system, which became known as H.R.676, it stood little chance of getting recognition from the Obama administration or an endorsement from the AFL-CIO.

But the supporters of H.R. 676 were not daunted. They continued their campaign gathering support, union by union, until they had achieved a phenomenal list of AFL-CIO affiliated organizations, that eventually overcame the odds against them. Is there a lesson to be learned from their efforts? &$151; Harry Kelber

LaborTalk will be posted here on May 17, 2011 and on our two web sites and on

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