ALIQUIPPA, Penn. — They lent faces, breath and passion to the statistics of pain and crisis in the country’s for-profit health care system. Over 200 workers and their families jammed the Aliquippa Croatian Club here May 21, with one thing on their minds — action to create national health care. Steelworkers, construction trades people and airline workers broke new ground by testifying at the first of a series of citizen hearings, hosted by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Kucinich have introduced legislation into the House, HR676, to create a universal, single-payer health care system. The Aliquippa hearing provided the vital resident clout to secure serious congressional consideration, build a grassroots movement and, ultimately, win passage.

The bill answers the criteria outlined by labor unions and advocacy groups who point out that 45 million working families have no health care in the richest country in the world. HR676 covers everyone without deductibles and co-pays. Patients select their own physician who decides treatment and care, not an insurance company. In addition to primary health care, HR676 provides dental, optical, and mental health services. Modeled on the current system of Medicare, the bill would slash health care administrative costs by 11 percent, and it is estimated it would reduce overall health spending by $50 billion in the first year (more info: cnhpn.org).

Corporate bankruptcy is pouring gasoline on the fires of the health care crisis. Carol McMann spoke for the 250,000 steelworkers across the country who lost their retiree health care. After describing a dizzying maze of insurance company plans to plug the health care hole left when LTV Steel collapsed, a passionate McMann pleaded for a new health care system. “Our health insurance takes it all,” she said. “My husband worked his life away for absolutely nothing in the U.S. of A. We no longer have any money for gifts for family, no longer take vacation, no longer take day trips or get out of the house.”

The skyrocketing cost of medications forces Pat Pudik and her husband, a veteran LTV steelworker, to take half their prescriptions one day and the other half the next, she told the panel of labor leaders and elected officials.

Construction electrician Robert Nixon, a member of IBEW Local 712 for 40 years, has been laid off 10 out of the last 13 months. His cost to keep his family’s health insurance is $1,000 per month, wiping out their savings. They are now in debt.

Ian Thompson, a recent Penn State graduate, said that 18,000 young people die needlessly each year because they do not have health care. Thompson charged that the “perverse” federal spending on the Iraq war and occupation diverts money from life-and-death health care coverage. “Young people are in debt to pay for health insurance, burying their dreams,” he said.

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