The 113th Congress will likely be remembered as the most unproductive in our history, and with an overall approval rating of 9 perent, it is safe to say that most Americans do not consider this bunch to be a noble group of public servants engaged in good works for the people of this country. It is rare that any member of Congress is honored on any level these days, but one truly worthy exception is Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who early in December was honored with a breakfast celebration attended by some 40 union representatives at a restaurant on East 29th Street in New York City.
Those present included leaders from Actors Equity, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the New York City Central Labor Council (NYCCLC), whose President, Vincent Alvarez, declared his support for Mr. Conyers' bill HR 676, The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, and promised to deliver their 1.3 million members to back this cause. This is a very significant development, as the 300 unions under the umbrella of the NYCCLC are made up of truck drivers, teachers, nurses, operating engineers, construction workers, janitors, train operators, electricians, fire fighters, retail workers and many more hardworking Americans who, along with everyone else in our nation, would benefit greatly from this revolutionary healthcare plan. They are the face of American labor today, and Mr. Alvarez spoke of the need for labor and the general public to unite and work together for this imperative cause: providing affordable, quality healthcare to all Americans.
We might recall that it was labor that gave us the middle class during the post World War II years as they worked to indeed lift all boats in that time of unprecedented prosperity. Can they lead our nation once again in this time of unprecedented need? They have been taking quite a beating, and have been decimated in several states by the lackeys of the 1 percent. But their values are America's values, and it is critical that they remain a vibrant force for change in this country.
Mr. Conyers was introduced by his longtime friend, TV talk show host Phil Donahue, and other speakers that morning included Robert Score, Recording-Corresponding Secretary of Local 1 of IATSE, and Stephen Shaff, speaking on behalf of Progressive Democrats of America. Mr. Conyers himself noted that it took him 15 years to move Congress to declare a national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, so he is prepared for a long haul to achieve Medicare For All. He has reintroduced HR 676 in every Congress since 2003, and has now garnered support from 54 other House members, along with an impressive 609 union organizations, including 146 Central Labor Councils/Area Federations and 44 State AFL/CIO's. Obamacare's failure to address the Taft Hartley Plans and the operating procedures under which they work could create even more union support for the Single Payer movement. The president must address this issue.
Meanwhile, support from the public also continues to build, as the warts on the ACA become more apparent and the questions about its viability grow louder on almost a daily basis. This will undoubtedly drag into the 2014 election and continue to send shock waves throughout the political world into the 2016 race for the White House, as the Conservatives will remain active in their attacks and continuing efforts to end Obamacare.
Following the breakfast, Mr. Conyers and his policy director Mike Darner met with 15 of his core Single Payer activist leaders from organizations like Physicians For A National Health Program and Healthcare-Now! -- as well as some doctors -- to discuss strategy and continue building the movement. This group is definitely in it for the long haul, too, as they have supported Mr. Conyers and his bill for years. This is a bill that would deliver all necessary health services at less than half the cost we pay now, eliminating co-pays, deductibles and co-insurance while providing long-term care -- including all of those expensive dental specialties. The estimated savings would be in the range of $592 billion a year. Better healthcare at lower costs -- what's not to like? And if you like your doctor, you actually could keep him or her -- did you hear that, Mr. President? You can also pick any doctor you like -- no more provider networks. These healthcare professionals would be able to become doctors once again, instead of a "provider" or "vendor," and we could become patients again, ending our dehumanizing role as a "consumer" or "customer."
Of late, we have been reading about Medicare For All from such luminaries as Robert Reich, Ralph Nader and William Greider in The Nation, among others. Even Bill Clinton mentioned it during President Obama's second campaign. If Hillary were to acknowledge that Medicare For All is the next logical step after Obamacare, she would gain tremendous support and a second opportunity to get the right healthcare plan in place for her presumed 2016 run for president. Unfortunately, Hillary has proven herself to be far from progressive on many issues in the past, so we will have to wait and hear from her what her healthcare plan actually is if she decides to run.
Meanwhile, in the past few weeks Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. James McDermott (D-WA) -- who is also a doctor -- have both introduced Single Payer bills. Bernie's bill is a Medicare-for-All proposal known as the American Health Security Act of 2013 (S.1782), which would be administered by the states and transferable between states. The McDermott bill also moves the initiative outside of D.C., leaving it up to the states to develop their own plans based on their diversity and individual needs. As Massachusetts was the template for the ACA, it makes sense to finally introduce Single Payer on a state-by-state level.
Vermont has approval in both of its houses for a Single Payer plan, but it needs a waiver from the ACA to implement it in 2017. Can't the federal government speed up that process? There are also plans at the ready in New York and in Rep. McDermott's home state of Washington. And what of California, which has come so close in the past? One state can lead the country toward this monumental goal, the way Massachusetts did with the ACA. We just need to find the will.
In the Greider article in this month's The Nation, entitled "Reviving The Fight For Single Payer," he raises the question many of us ask: Can Obamacare deliver what it promised? One of the major problems he notes is that "...the reformed system will also still rely on the market competition of profit-making enterprises, including insurance companies." Rep. McDermott was interviewed for this article, and he pointed out another major flaw in the ACA: "In the long arc of healthcare reform, I think [the ACA] will ultimately fail, because we are trying to put business-model methods into the healthcare system. We're not making refrigerators. We're dealing with human beings, who are way more complicated than refrigerators on an assembly line."
Rep. McDermott - an advocate for Single Payer for decades - further wondered if hospitals will become "too big to fail" as they continue to merge and buy up private practices, and continue hiring younger doctors as salaried employees. Mr. Greider also made the following revelation: "An AMA survey in 2012 found the majority of doctors under 40 are salaried employees." Rep. McDermott sees the troubling direction of this trend, noting that many new doctors "...will simply be serfs working for the system," and Mr. Greider referred to another key point in the AMA research, noting that "...hospitals focus on employing primary-care physicians in order to maintain a strong referral base for high-margin specialty service lines." Mr. Greider added further insight from Rep. McDermott: "Big hospitals need a feeder system of salaried doctors, McDermott explained, to keep sending them patients in need of surgery or other expensive procedures." Even so, Rep. McDermott remains optimistic that stronger health care systems resembling Single Payer will spring up moving forward.
The New York Daily News offered a scathing editorial on December 24th entitled "Can This Patient Be Saved?" in which we were given a blow-by-blow analysis of the devastatingly mishandled rollout of the Obamacare exchanges and the problems millions of Americans have been having signing up for them. The situation was so bad that the deadline was extended until Christmas Eve for those to sign up who wanted their insurance to kick in on January 1, 2014. The CBO projects seven million will sign up in 2014, in addition to the about 1.1 million this year -- well below the Administration's projections. Meanwhile, millions will be losing their current plans due to the mandate. The question of more people losing their insurance than gaining it as a result of the president remaking the "healthcare economy" was also raised in this Op Ed piece.
Key provisions of the bill have already been waived in the past three years since its passage, and an additional postponement of the requirement for companies with fifty or more employees to offer health insurance or pay a tax penalty has now been postponed until 2015.
The individual mandate requiring most Americans to find coverage by April is also waiving penalties for those who had insurance and lost it this year. Most glaring in this critical article is the fact that there is "little reliable" information on who is getting what as far as coverage is concerned, and at what cost. The even larger question is, will those younger and healthier people opt in at all? If not, financially this boondoggle will sink. Obamacare is counting on them.
As the tinkering continues on the ACA, a major architect of this mess has just been rewarded by the president with an ambassadorship offer to China. Senator Baucus, do you not know the meaning of the word "retire?"
All good wishes for a (hopefully) healthy and happy New Year!
- with Jonathan Stone