As Congress returns, unions step up fight against Trumpcare
Timothy D. Easley/AP

WASHINGTON – As lawmakers prepare to return to D.C. after yet another recess, unions nationwide continued their campaign to get senators to derail the GOP’s so-called health care bill.

The demonstrations, letters and phone calls emphasized that the Republican brainstorm would yank health care coverage from 22 million people in the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

CBO also calculated that two-thirds of them – 15 million – would lose coverage next year if the measure passes now and makes it to GOP President Donald Trump’s desk.

And the money “saved” from dumping those 22 million from the health care rolls would go to a massive tax giveaway to the rich and corporations, the unions emphasize.

Other unions and activists nationwide are joining the crusade against the health care plan, focusing on GOP senators who are undecided or leaning against the legislation. Targets include Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine) and Dean Heller (Nevada). Republicans can afford to lose only two of their 52 senators for the health care bill to pass.

“Let’s keep the pressure on!” the Office and Professional Employees e-mailed their members. “Act now to urge your senators to oppose the Republican leadership’s healthcare bill that will rob millions of people of benefits while giving a huge tax break to the wealthy. Tell them you know the bill will: (1) Make millions of working people pay more for less care (2) Tax your workplace plans if you get decent health coverage at work (3) Give massive tax breaks to wealthy corporations and CEOs (4) Take away healthcare from millions of working people and (5) Drastically cut Medicaid, which provides vital services for a large group of Americans.

“Tell Your Senator Not To Gut Health Care” proclaims the headline at the top of the AFL-CIO’s phone-in request. The fed (1-888-865-8089), the Steelworkers (1-877-607-0785) and the Service Employees (1-855-980-2280) distributed toll-free numbers for calling senators.

The GOP’s health care bill “would eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions, take away health care from tens of millions of people, raise health care costs for millions more, decimate Medicaid and give a huge tax break to the super-rich and corporate CEOs, while taxing workplace health benefits,” the fed’s sample call-in script says.

“We need a health care plan that expands coverage for everyone, not one that cuts it. Please don’t gut our health care,” it concludes.

“We have no illusions,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explained about why unions continue their campaign. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., “has a PhD in Washington backroom deals. He will exhaust every trick in the book, every slight-of-hand and every shady deal to get this bill signed into law. We will not relent until it is dead and gone.”

The measure is not only “a vicious assault on Americans’ health care security,” but it’s also “a massive transfer of wealth from workers to Wall Street,” Trumka explained. It also raises taxes on workers who “negotiated high-quality health care,” he added. That’s a reference to the one tax the Senate bill keeps: On so-called “Cadillac” health plan benefits, many of them union-negotiated.

The Alaska AFL-CIO headed its “Action Alert” on health care with “Tell Sen. Murkowski To Vote No On Secret Health Care Bill And Protect Our Care,” referring – though not by name—to the fact that McConnell and his staff crafted the GOP health care bill in secret, after a 13-all-male-senator GOP working group failed to do so.

“Like many Americans, you may have parents or other loved ones in nursing homes because they require around-the-clock care,” it said. “Nursing-home care is expensive, typically $80,000 per year for a semiprivate room—far more than the income of a typical senior.

“Medicare generally pays only for short-term nursing-home stays. Yet only about 1 in 10 people 65 and older have private long-term care insurance to cover nursing-home costs. For a great many people, that insurance is too expensive.

“Medicaid is the one thing people can count on when their money has run out. Losing that coverage, as could happen to some people if congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump succeed in gutting Medicaid funding to pay for tax cuts for corporate CEOs and the wealthiest 1 percent, would force working people to make impossible choices about how to care for their parents and other family members when they can no longer care for themselves.

“This is just one reason why Medicaid matters to working people and their families.”

The Service Employees concentrated on campaigning for Medicaid. But “It’s time to represent the interests of working Americans, not insurance and drug company CEOs,” Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry said. Her union reported members making 240,000 calls against the Senate GOP health care bill even before the congressional recess.

“With this dreadful, shameful, punitive and immoral health care bill, Senate Republicans are—once again—teaming up with an administration of the 1 percent and for the 1 percent with a clear goal in mind: To take away health care from millions of people, cut taxes to the rich and push an agenda designed to favor the powerful and wealthy over the needs of working families,” SEIU 32BJ President Hector Figueroa told New York local media. His big SEIU local represents janitors and other low-paid workers nationwide. Many need federal health care aid.

Unite Here, the dominant workers’ voice in Nevada, launched a radio ad campaign to convince Heller to keep opposing McConnell’s legislation, despite any proposed changes. Heller is considered to be the most-endangered GOP incumbent senator next year.

And members of Culinary Workers Local 226 of Las Vegas, Unite Here’s and Nevada’s largest individual local – with 57,000 members – defied triple-digit temperatures to mount health care demonstrations outside the senator’s city office.

“Medicaid covers 248,000 low-income NV children. Call @SenDeanHeller at (202)224-6244 & ask him to #ProtectMedicaid. Senator Heller, Protect Nevada,” one Local 226 tweet says. “Senator Heller must stand up for working families. We will hold him to his word—everyone should have access to healthcare & that means voting NO on Senate healthcare bill,” the other adds.

The Steelworkers listed impacts of the Senate health care bill. Besides the 22 million people thrown off health care, they included:

  • Billions: Amount of tax breaks going to the wealthiest because of this bill.
  • 40 percent: Union members and others with quality, employer-based health insurance plans will be subjected to a 40 percent excise tax to pay for the Senate bill.
  • 0: Number of Senators who will lose their health care if this becomes law.
  • 5x: Rate at which older Americans can be charged more for insurance compared to younger Americans (five times as much).
  • 2 out of 3: Portion of seniors in nursing homes who are served by Medicaid. The Senate bill contains massive cuts to Medicaid.
  • 10: Categories of ‘essential health benefits’ that could no longer be included in health care plans if a state decides to opt out. Benefits include hospitalization, emergency care, pregnancy and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse treatment and more.

“Please join the fight to oppose this bad bill that delivers for the wealthiest, while harming everyone else,” USW concludes.

Two right-wing GOP senators, Rand Paul (Kent.) and Mike Lee (Utah) also oppose McConnell’s bill, as they – like the rest of the GOP—want to repeal the 7-year-old Affordable Care Act. But while Murkowski, Heller and Collins want to replace ACA, Paul and Lee don’t.

Paul has held no town halls on health care. AFT Local 1360 member Berry Craig told the state AFL-CIO that McConnell snuck into Paducah and Mayfield to meet the local Farm Bureau – a conservative group—and address a closed-door Rotary Club luncheon, ignoring voters and activists denouncing his health care bill outside.

“He knew there’d be protesters over Trumpcare,” Leslie McColgin, an organizer of the Paducah rally, told Craig. Signs at Kentucky protests included “Trumpcare is fake healthcare,” “Just say no to Trumpcare; Kentucky lives matter,” and “Healthy countries have real health care.” A sharper sign told McConnell: “22 million uninsured; Your bill is a death sentence.”

“Working people brought this bill to a screeching halt. We mobilized in record time, and we won’t stand down. We’re running ads. We’re flooding Senate offices with phone calls. We’re going all out. If the Senate insists on moving forward with this plan, we will continue to make our voices heard,” Trumka vows.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of the People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.   Gruenberg has been editor-in-chief of PAI since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jarvis bureau chief for the Middletown NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for the Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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