October 25, 2014
Good morning brothers and sisters. My name is Mark Piotrowski, I’m a staffer for the Florida Education Association, but today I’m here on behalf of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Health Care. We’d like thank President Richardson and Brother DeMauro for inviting us to talk with ya’ll about our campaign — which the APWU has endorsed nationally.
The Labor Campaign was launched in St. Louis in 2009, just before Pres. Obama’s first inauguration. It brought together 12 national unions, 9 state feds and dozens of local and regional labor organizations.
We work to coordinate grassroots labor support for a single-payer, Medicare-for-All healthcare system in America that eliminates the role of private insurance companies. We believe that health care is a fundamental human right and that it should be treated as a public good, not a commodity. We also believe that the labor movement must take the lead in the fight for healthcare justice.
Before we talk about specifically what the Labor Campaign is working for and how you can get involved (and maybe take some questions), let’s review some of the problems we face as working people — and unionists in particular — under the for-profit U.S. healthcare system.
It’s really a remarkable system, isn’t it?
We spend more than twice as much per person on health care as any other country yet we still have tens of millions of folks who can’t get the care they need. We have some of the most advanced medical technology in the world yet lag behind countries like Japan, Canada and Germany in basic health statistics. Ours is the most expensive and the most unequal system in the world.
Of course this is because we are unique in the U.S. because we have private insurance companies — Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Humana, Cigna and the like — skimming off 30% of our health care dollars for advertising, political lobbying, denials of care and huge CEO salaries. Last year the CEO of Aetna got a 131% raise — jumping from a measly $13.2 million to $30.7 M. Anyone else here get a 131% raise last year?
So our healthcare crisis is really a health insurance crisis.
And we know that this crisis is the top issue on just about every bargaining table for every union across the country.
Along with being the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the U.S., rising insurance costs are also the leading cause of strikes, lockouts and concession bargaining. Time that could be spent at the table pushing for health and safety, better pay or retirement is gobbled up by insurance fights. Many of us see our hard-fought pay increases eaten up by skyrocketing insurance rates. Public employers are relying increasingly on cost-shifting to deal with stagnant or shrinking budgets. Even those of us with so-called “good insurance” still face a confusing mess of co-pays, deductibles, out-of-pocket costs and mountains of paperwork.
And of course I don’t need to tell you how the insurance crisis affects postal workers. The absurd and unique requirement that the postal system pre-fund retiree health care costs for 75 years is one of THE driving force behind so-called deficits and the push to privatize — or even eliminate — the post office.
And starting in 2018, as you’ve probably heard, many union workers who have fought hard to win and protect good health insurance benefits for themselves and their families will face the so-called “Cadillac Tax” of 40% on health care costs over a certain amount. (($10,200 (indiv.) and $27,500 (fam.).)) This tax is levied on the employer or union health plan — and many employers have already said they’ll pass this tax right on to the workers. We’re already seeing employers using the tax to speed up cost shifting or squeeze out early concessions at the bargaining table.
So we believe this isn’t a fight we can win union-by-union. It’s one that we think the labor movement has to unite around to win on every bargaining table all-at-once by “finishing the job” as we like to say —by winning a national, publicly funded, Medicare-for-all health care system.
What is single-payer?
A single-payer system (like workers enjoy in every other industrialized country) would guarantee quality, affordable health care — not just the right to buy insurance — for every man, woman and child in the U.S. for all of our health care needs for our entire lives (including things not currently covered like dental or long-term care). We’d have guaranteed coverage whether we’re married or single; whether we’re working, looking for work, or retired; whether we’re sick or healthy.
We can pay for the health care of every person in the U.S. simply by eliminating the role of private insurance companies and redirecting the 30% of health care dollars they waste on overhead and giant profits back into direct care. In fact 95% of us would pay less under single-payer than we do now when you total up our premiums, deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses.
The Affordable Care Act
A few quick words about the Affordable Care Act… For all the work the labor movement put into electing Pres. Obama and passing the Affordable Care Act, and for any of the benefits contained in the ACA, it has not solved the health care crisis.
This is because it keeps the insurance companies right in the middle of an employer-based system of coverage. While the ACA allows millions to buy needed insurance who haven’t been able to, removes age and preexisting conditions as barriers to getting insurance and expands coverage to dependents up to age 26, it continues to treat health care as a consumer good, a commodity and individual responsibility instead of a human right.
The Supreme Court ruling that states like ours could opt-out of Medicaid expansion is another new front in the fight for health care justice.
(How crazy is it that Gov. Rick Scott was CEO of Columbia/HCA when they were fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud but won’t expand Medicaid for millions of Floridians — mostly the working poor?)
And the new layers of tiered coverage in the exchanges — platinum, gold, silver and bronze — and the “Wal-Mart loophole” (which says employers only need provide coverage for workers averaging 30 hrs/wk) both increase the “race to the bottom” pressure at the bargaining table to cut hours and reduce benefits.
Instead of this confusing mess — that again costs us so much time and energy at the bargaining table — we believe that in a country with the wealth and resources of the U.S., all of us should have the same high quality care — whether we’re a custodian or a CEO, a postal worker or a congressman.
So how are we going to do this? How are we going to “finish the job” and create a health care system with everybody in, nobody out?
The Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare thinks that like in other industrialized countries that have single-payer health care that covers all workers, the Labor Movement must lead the fight for healthcare justice. But we’re only going to win that fight by building a big mass movement to demand it and protect it once we win. We all know the Labor Movement is the only social force with the resources and organizing capacity to bring together workers and patients and community members and doctors, united to get rid of the insurance companies that profit so much off our healthcare.
So we invite you to get involved with the Labor Campaign for Single Payer. Stop by our table and sign up for more info. Join as individual members. Bring us to speak to your local or CLC.
We’re working to push the issue up, to convince the national labor movement that this is a critical priority for our unions and our members; And to move it down… to educate and mobilize an army of union activists ready and able to build a movement that finishes the job — that expands the solidarity model of HC that we’ve perfected at the bargaining table over decades into a movement around the call for “Medicare for All”.
This is a fight that’s going to have to move past passing resolutions and to a real commitment of resources and organizing. This is a fight that will once again show labor’s commitment to speak up and stand up for the entire working class. And it’s a fight we can’t afford to lose. Join us!