COMMENTARY Narrow thinking on health care

HR 676, the single-payer bill introduced by Michigan Rep. John Conyers, is a fine piece of legislation and it is understandable that those who have worked hard for its enactment are passionate about this cause.

What is not understandable is the drawing of a “line in the sand” that divides those fighting for health care reform between supporters of 676 and those supporting a strong public option. Unfortunately, some in the single-payer movement give the impression they would rather see defeat of health care reform if 676 is not the bill of choice. One of Michigan’s new House Democrats, the first Democrat to be elected from the district since the early 1980s, has stated his support for the public option. Most people welcome his position, and it is such a refreshing change from the right-wing Republican who previously held his seat.

However it wasn’t enough for a group of health care activists visiting his office. They said he must sign on to 676 and even raised the possibility of a “die-in” at his office if he didn’t.

I heard another unfortunate story from a staff person with Organizing for America. He talked about his visit to a Democratic Party club, located in a rather wealthy community. Those in attendance were quite vocal for HR 676 and really didn’t want to hear him talk about building support for the public option.

That got me thinking. If you travel just two or three miles west from where they were meeting, you would be in the city of Detroit whose residents are being hard hit by every crisis you can think of. The two communities are at opposite ends of the economic spectrum.

In Detroit, unemployment is upwards of 30 percent, homes are being foreclosed and those enjoying health care benefits are few.

A strong public option would give them coverage. Would people who haven’t had health care for years and have no present hope of having it dismiss the public option saying “No, let’s wait for something better”?

A person I know who has been very active in the health care fight is worried about his daughter who doesn’t have health care, and says the public option would most likely cover her. He’s all for the measure because it would help a lot of people.

I have the same concerns over my daughter, who just finished college and has no health coverage.

The AFL-CIO, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and almost every people’s organization see the necessity to address those concerns and the nation’s health care crisis and are working to pass a strong health reform bill this year. They do this even though many of them have also endorsed single payer.

They do not see a contradiction between winning a good reform today and the fight to keep improving health care no matter what measure is passed now.

Winning a strong public option, considering the balance of forces in Congress and the county as a whole, would be a huge victory for the people and a huge defeat for the right wing and the insurance companies — and they are lobbying hard to try to prevent that defeat.

That victory can set the stage for winning future improvements, whereas the defeat of the public option would be a real momentum killer.

The right is united in opposing this measure; shouldn’t forces for reform be equally or more united to ensure it passes?

John Rummel (jrummel@pww.org) writes for the People’s Weekly World from Michigan.