WASHINGTON (PAI) — A bill establishing a government-run Canadian style single-payer health care system for the U.S., built on Medicare, is gaining union backers, coincidentally as “Cover the Uninsured” week ran from May 1-7. The measure, HR 676 by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), would eliminate the private, for-profit health insurance industry by establishing a government-run system.

The “United States National Health Insurance Act” would be funded through the federal budget, says a fact sheet from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which covers health issues and which sponsored the week spotlighting the uninsured.

Health care now takes slightly more than one-sixth of U.S. gross domestic product. GDP is the measurement of the value of all goods and services produced in the country.

The latest backers of Conyers’ bill were the Ohio legislative board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen/IBT, Letter Carriers Branch 3126 of Royal Oak, Mich., and Graphic Communications Conference/IBT Web Pressmen’s Local 4N of San Francisco. The Ohio BLET said it will take the cause to its conference convention in June and — if it wins — to the Teamsters convention immediately afterwards.

Their endorsements, in late April, came just after that of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, on April 6, after lobbying by USW Local 3567 member Janet Hill, who is also secretary of the Pittsburgh-area Coalition of Labor Union Women. Both the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia CLUW chapters had earlier endorsed Conyers’ legislation. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, which claims 900,000 members, is the second state fed to back HR 676, after Kentucky’s. Conyers also has 68 U.S. House co-sponsors.

And Amalgamated Transit Union Local 825, which represents bus drivers, mechanics and other workers at New Jersey Transit, also voted to ask its parent international to back Conyers’ bill.

But the GOP leadership in the Senate is focusing on legislation that would supposedly help small businesses band together to get health insurance. In reality, the AFL-CIO said, that measure, pushed by the so-called National Federation of Independent Business — a key section of the ruling Republicans’ right-wing coalition — could raise the premiums on people who are insured and increase the number of the uninsured, now 46 million.

Uninsured people are the focus of the weeklong “Cover the Uninsured” drive, with the backing of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, several health care groups and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But while the groups all agree there is a health care coverage problem, they are silent on how to solve it.

Conyers’ bill would mandate comprehensive coverage of “all medically necessary services”: primary care and prevention, inpatient and outpatient care, long-term care, emergency care, mental health services, prescription drugs, durable medical equipment, full dental services (except cosmetic dentistry), substance abuse treatment, chiropractic services and basic vision care and vision correction, the summary says.

“No cost-sharing would be imposed and benefits would only be available from public or nonprofit providers,” it adds. “Nonprofit HMOs that deliver care in their own facilities and employ clinicians on a salaried basis could participate.” And there would be no insurance premiums. Hospitals and nursing homes would get monthly lump-sum payments while doctors and nurses would get fee-for-service payments under a negotiated fee schedule based initially on current prevailing fees or reimbursement, the foundation says.

Data from America’s Agenda: Health Care For All, a group headed by former UFCW President Doug Dority, shows health insurance premiums rose 60 percent since the year 2000, but “the proportion of premiums that insurers paid out for medical costs declined” in the same time. The money went into insurers’ profits and claims processing — paperwork. Other data show private insurers spend approximately one-fifth of their revenue on overhead, including processing. Medicare — the basis for Conyers’ bill — spends 3 percent.

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