Lawmakers Accelerate Push for Medicare-for-All

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

With union backing, a group of 66 House Democrats – and counting – accelerated the congressional push for Medicare For All by forming a caucus to hold study sessions, answer colleagues’ questions and issue papers on aspects of the cause.

Backed by representatives of National Nurses United and with a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees/Teamsters in the crowd, Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Keith Ellison, DFL-Minn., Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis., unveiled the group at a sun-splashed press conference July 19 on the U.S. Capitol lawn.

The object of the caucus is to not only answer questions about single-payer govern-ment-run health care for everyone, but also to campaign for the legislation to create it, HR676 in the House and a companion bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt.

Those measures would replace the U.S.’s current, private jury-rigged high cost health care “system” with federally run health care, eliminating the health insurance industry and other for-profit aspects of health care. “Profit must have no place in health care,” Jayapal said.

 

That would save U.S. residents hundreds of millions of dollars yearly, while ensuring no one could not afford to go to a doctor for care, the lawmakers said. It would also save lives, declared Martese Chism, an RN at Chicago’s Stroger (Cook County General) Hospital.

“Too many patients die because they can’t afford the care they need,” she explained.

Medicare for All has been NNU’s cause. The union has gotten it through the California State Senate, but not the State Assembly. But NNU has also picked up support from at least 20 other unions along the way, plus an AFL-CIO executive council endorsement.

Now, Chism said, it’s Congress’s turn. “For the first time ever, we have a congressional caucus committed to achieving Medicare For All. It is far past time for Congress to get its act together and fundamentally change our broken health care system.”

Chism explained that as an RN in a large public hospital, she sees the impact of the lack of health insurance, or the lack of ability to pay for health insurance or even basic medical care, in the flood of patients who enter Stroger’s doors.

“Our emergency rooms overflow with people who couldn’t afford care when they needed it,” she said. “And I worked for eight years in the dialysis unit, and I saw first-hand how many kidney patients ended up with renal failure because they couldn’t afford dialysis,” due to insurers’ denials of payment for care, high co-pays or both. “This is a disgrace.”

Single-payer government-run health care will help end that problem by eliminating those costly middlemen, whose tab patients – or public hospitals such as Stroger – must foot, Jayapal said.

Citing university research findings, she said “by simplifying the health care system we would save $350 billion annually, and would save $200 billion more in unnecessary tests” doctors prescribe to avoid subsequent denials of payment, lawsuits, or both.

“We’re here to make sure health care is available to everybody, not just the wealthy.”

“If you live in America, you have the right to affordable, quality health care, period,” added Dingell. For her “this is personal,” as her husband, retired Rep. John Dingell Jr., D-Mich., helped push Medicare through Congress in 1965 and his father, Rep. John Dingell Sr., D-Mich., helped enact Social Security 30 years before that.  And Debbie Dingell, like Jayapal and the others, supports the Affordable Care Act, though Jayapal called it “only the first step” to Medicare For All.

Whether the Republican-run Congress will listen is another matter, no matter how much data the new caucus marshals for Medicare For All. It, and the GOP Trump administration, have spent their time voting against or administratively dismantling the ACA. But Pocan, a Painter, noted lawmakers are already behind the public, with a Kaiser Foundation survey showing more than half of the population supporting Medicare For All. “If the people lead, eventually the leaders will follow,” he predicted.    

Posted In: From Press Associates, Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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