What I Do
Deborah Cannada, Librarian - West Side Elementary School, Charleston, WV.
Submitted by Alameda Labor Council (Calif.), California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee and International Longshore and Warehouse Union; Amended by the Legislation and Policy Committee
The nation once again is focused on the crisis in health care and the American people are looking for a comprehensive solution, instead of the inaction and incredibly ineffective piecemeal approach of the last 10 years.
Nearly 47 million U.S. citizens are uninsured. Tens of millions more worry about losing the coverage they have. Workers fear changing or losing jobs because they are at risk of losing their health care coverage. American businesses that provide adequate health benefits are at a significant disadvantage, competing in the global marketplace with foreign companies that do not carry health care costs on their balance sheets. The same is true for businesses in domestic competition against employers that provide little or no coverage.
As a society, we all benefit from improvements in public health. We are a more creative, vibrant, productive and democratic nation because of it. We are all at risk of illness, injury or poor health, and we all suffer when individuals are denied needed care. The shortcomings of the American health care system—which ignores these fundamental realities—strain our nation’s social and economic fabric.
The time for talking about this crisis has passed. All families deserve the security of a universal health care system that guarantees access based on need rather than income. Health care is a fundamental human right and an important measure of social justice.
As a nation, we need to exert the political will to enact comprehensive health care reform nationwide. There is strong evidence the crisis can be solved with tools at hand and at a cost that pales in comparison to the toll in human lives the current system exacts.
It is time to mobilize America behind a concrete plan to enact universal health care, and the AFL-CIO commits its full resources to asserting leadership in this historic effort. Universal health care does not mean mandating that everyone must buy a health insurance policy and then handing them the bills. Meaningful health care reform must be measured by the following tests:
Our approach should be to build on what’s best in American health care. At the same time, we should draw from the best experiences of other countries that have achieved universal coverage at a fraction of U.S. health care costs.
Unlike our fragmented and flawed health care system, a successful universal health care system would provide benefits and cost savings for all stakeholders. The leadership to make comprehensive reform possible, then, must come from all quarters:
We will mobilize our members to build support for bold, meaningful and comprehensive reform and work to pass legislation that assures everyone comprehensive coverage.
One concrete plan that meets the test of comprehensive, universal health coverage would build on our nation’s successful universal health coverage plan for seniors: Medicare.
In its 40-year history, Medicare has delivered substantial advances for the health care of older Americans and people with disabilities. Medicare has guaranteed coverage, made health care more affordable, included a form of shared financial responsibility, significantly reduced administrative costs compared with those of private plans and has been the largely unheralded financer of America’s medical science advances. Medicare also has been a leader in advancing quality care and improvements in health care service delivery in the United States.
Such an approach would require updating and expanding Medicare benefits to fit the working population and children, as well as negotiating prices with physicians and providers that families—and the country—can afford. It would encourage innovation in health care services and medical technology. Employers’ responsibility for health care financing would be broadly and equitably shared, substantially reducing burdens on all businesses and reducing disadvantages currently faced in the global marketplace. In building on Medicare to move toward a universal program, we can find a practical, achievable and affordable solution to our country’s health care crisis.
The experience of Medicare (and of nearly every other industrialized country) shows the most cost-effective and equitable way to provide quality health care is through a single-payer system. Our nation should provide a single high standard of comprehensive care for all.
We reiterate our longstanding call for congressional leaders to unite behind such a plan.
There have been a number of single-payer bills introduced in this Congress and previous Congresses, including H.R. 676 introduced by Rep. Conyers and bills introduced by Sen. Kennedy and Reps. Stark and Dingell. The single-payer approach is one the AFL-CIO supports and that merits dedicated congressional support and enactment.
Whatever the outcome of the current debate over health care reform in the 111th Congress, the task of establishing health care as a human right, not a privilege, will still lay before us. We continue to believe the social insurance model should be our goal, and we will continue to fight for reforms that take us in that direction.
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