The fight for health care reform intensified this week on Capitol Hill as workers, union activists and labor leaders arrive here determined to drown out the voices of the health insurance lobbyists that have been badgering lawmakers almost non-stop for months.
On Wednesday and Thursday, 125 labor activists and leaders from 27 states will be on the Hill demanding that lawmakers produce a final bill that includes a public option and does not tax workers’ health care benefits.
The Senate Finance Committee, which said “no” to a public health insurance option last week, is expected to vote and pass its bill late Tuesday or Wednesday.
The next step in the legislative process is to merge that bill with the much better one passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee which includes a public option and doesn’t tax workers’ health care benefits.
The unionists on Capitol Hill, according to the AFL-CIO, will be delivering tens of thousands of hand written letters from workers demanding that lawmakers back health care reform that curbs health insurance company abuses and provides coverage for all.
The labor federation is posting samples of these letters to lawmakers on the Internet.
A letter from “Patrick” of Omaha, Neb. reads, “During my mother’s struggle with cancer, she lost her insurance because she was unable to work. She paid in her entire life, but lost it when she needed it the most. It is criminal what insurance companies do to working- class Americans.”
“I’m not looking for a handout,” writes “Heather” from Florida. “I currently work and attend college, however I am still unable to afford health insurance. I feel health care should be a right, not a privilege.”
Labor is far from alone in its lobbying for health care reform this week.
Health Care for America Now (HCAN) is mounting a two day effort, Oct. 6-7, to mobilize tens of thousands across the nation to call lawmakers demanding that they not negotiate away meaningful health care reform. HCAN is a national grassroots coalition that includes hundreds of organizations representing millions of people.
The AFL-CIO will join the coalition in its efforts on the second day of the phone-a-thon by sending thousands of union members to phone banks and by participating in call-in groups.
The federation says that all Americans can participate in this effort Wednesday by calling their senators and representatives at 1-877-323-5246.
Both labor and HCAN see the next few days as critical to the overall fight for what they call “meaningful” health care reform and both consider the bill that has emerged from the Senate’s health committee as superior to what is likely to what has emerged from that body’s finance committee.
The health committee bill is the version with a public option. Beyond this major difference, however, there are others.
The health committee bill proposes more substantial subsidies to low-income people to help them buy coverage than does the finance committee bill.
The finance committee bill, on the other hand, proposes a tax on some of the insurance plans workers now get from their employers. Labor and its allies oppose this measure. The tax on workers is not included in the health committee bill.
The health committee bill would require employers to offer coverage to their workers or pay a tax penalty. The finance bill lets employers off the hook.
Labor has been saying that without a public option and without other provisions in the health committee bill the mandate that everyone purchase health insurance would amount not to health care reform but to a huge handout to private insurance companies.
Lawmakers are feeling the pressure.
Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid said last week that, despite the action taken by the finance committee, “Before this bill goes to the president’s desk, we are going to have some form of a public option in this bill.”