WASHINGTON (PAI)–There’s a mass march on Washington for health care, after all, on June 25.

Unionists from around the country are set to descend that day on the nation’s Capital to demand universal, quality, affordable health care with cost controls and choice of doctors — and to insist that Congress not pay for it by taxing workers’ health benefits.

If lawmakers impose that tax, says one union president, the Laborers’ Terry O’Sullivan, unionists — both members and organizations — will turn against the bill. He calls taxing workers’ benefits “dead on arrival.”

The unionists will be led by the Communications Workers, as 2,500 delegates to the union’s legislative conference and its subsequent convention will be in town. The health care lobbying follows a mass rally that starts at 11:30 a.m., on June 25.

The unionists will lobby lawmakers as Congress slogs through the heavy lifting of writing legislation to revamp the nation’s dysfunctional health care non-system. The big issues in dispute are whether to establish a public Medicare-like health plan to compete with the private insurers and keep them honest, and how to pay for the overhaul.

Health care now takes one of every six dollars of national output, some $2.3 trillion, but it leaves 47 million people uninsured, that same number underinsured, lets the insurers pocket at least 20 percent of the money for overhead, profits and high CEO pay, and routinely denies paid-for care, killing 101,000 people, data show.

It’s also the biggest stumbling block in virtually every union contract negotiating session.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Democrats agreed with the unionists on the health care goals, but were silent on how to pay for them, at least in their remarks at a June 16 press conference.

“Families are being crushed by rising health care costs. All across America, good-guy businesses are fighting to provide health insurance to their employees, but being crippled by the costs. The time for health care reform is now. We can’t afford to wait another day. The bill…will lower the high costs of health care, protect people’s choice of doctors, hospitals, and health plans, and ensure all Americans have access to quality, affordable care,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Democratic President Barack Obama, in a detailed speech the day before to the American Medical Association, espoused those principles, and the need to rework the U.S. health care system, but also was silent on taxing employee health care benefits.

“Now, if you don’t like your health care coverage or you don’t have any insurance at all, you’ll have a chance, under what we’ve proposed, to take part in what we’re calling a Health Insurance Exchange. This exchange will allow you to one-stop shop for a health care plan, compare benefits and prices, and choose a plan that’s best for you and your family — the same way, by the way, that federal employees can do,” he said.

“You will have your choice of a number of plans that offer a few different packages, but every plan would offer an affordable, basic package. Again, this is for people who aren’t happy with their current plan. If you like what you’re getting, keep it. Nobody is forcing you to shift. But if you’re not, this gives you some new options.

“And I believe one of these options needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices — and inject competition into the health care market so that we can force waste out of the system and keep the insurance companies honest,” Obama declared.

The Capitol Hill march, rally and lobbying was assembled by Health Care for America Now, a massive coalition of unions and other progressive groups. The week before, AFSCME and CWA analysts told congressional health care specialists that taxing workers’ health care benefits would only make a bad system worse.

“Taxing workers’ health care benefits – in essence, taxing health care to pay for health care expansion – is regressive because it reduces the income of low-income earners more than that of high-income earners…In the end, this tax could reduce the quality and quality of health care provided by employers,” the two unions said.

In a letter to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chair of the other key Senate panel working on health care, O’Sullivan was even blunter. “As I talk to workers around the country, union and non-union, I hear their outrage at being penalized for having health care coverage that protects them and their families,” O’Sullivan wrote. “I cannot recall any other issue in recent times that has so engaged and enraged workers.

O’Sullivan warned the senators his union “will be forced to vigorously oppose any health care reform package” that taxes employer-provided health care benefits.

“Because the hard-working men and women of unions, through their collectively bargained agreements, defer their take-home pay to help pay for their health care benefits, any plan that taxes those benefits is ‘dead on arrival’ for us,” he concluded.

Comments

comments

MOST POPULAR