The winners of this week’s Congressional elections will be representing a population increasingly angry over health care costs. For the fourth consecutive year, health care costs will be increasing, and this will be the highest level of health cost increases in 13 years.

The highest cost increases will target early retirees from the age of 55 to 65. While the anticipated increase will be 15 percent across the board, the anticipated increase for these early retirees will be 20 percent.

Given the grasp that the Medical-Industrial Complex has had over the White House and Congress in making sure no federal action stops them, these cost increases will be borne by workers themselves. For unemployed workers or those whose employers do not offer any health insurance, the costs of cutbacks in hospital and physician services will be even higher. These workers face out-of-pocket costs; or in most cases, the putting off of medical care.

For those who do have employer-provided insurance, family and dependent coverage is becoming more and more a relic of times past. The average cost to employers for medical coverage for an individual union employee is about $265 per month; for an employee with one dependent the cost more than doubles, to $549 per month, and for so-called family coverage the cost per month is set at about $780.

Health benefits are often fingered as the prime reason for labor disputes. For employers without unions, the money an employer will spend is directly dependent upon the employer’s fear of future unionization drives. For example, to kill the unionization drive at Overnight Trucking Company by the Teamsters Union, the company gave employees some medical coverage. Now that the campaign is called off, those benefits are dwindling very quickly. If no such drive exists, then the employer will simply drop family, then dependent, and eventually all coverage.

As medical costs increase, workers will be forced more and more into paying the costs of their health benefits. For those without insurance, the fight becomes finding quality health care from the dwindling numbers of available hospitals and physicians. The combination of costs and quality are the twin issues that are galvanizing a massive people’s movement.

So, what to do? The obvious answer is national health legislation.

Labor needs to be joined by political health activists from the professional and community perspectives. The entrenched interests of the Medical-Industrial Complex, including their control over politicians through campaign contributions, need to become targets of all protesters.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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