Health care: HR 676: Everybody in, nobody out!

WASHINGTON – “Health care in the U.S. is racist, sexist and discriminates against the poor.” That’s how USWA President Leo Gerard began his remarks to a conference called to organize passage of HR 676. The conference was held April 16-17 in the auditorium of the Howard University Medical School here.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the bill’s sponsor, hosted the conference. It calls for expanding and improving Medicare to cover all people residing in the U.S. Conyers announced that 28 representatives have signed on to the bill. Conference delegates added two more to the list in lobbying efforts the first morning of the meeting.

Gerard pointed out that those most affected by the lack of health care are African American and Latino populations, which are 40 to 60 percent uninsured or underinsured. In a slide presentation, Gerard showed how employers could save costs if the U.S. went to a national health care program. He pointed to the example of Canada, which arrived at a national system by first passing it in several provinces. In Canada, taxes are lower than the U.S. and medical care is less expensive as well, he said. The Steelworkers union has endorsed single- payer health reform, though not any specific legislation. “We have to work immediately on defeating Bush,” Gerard said.

Activists from across the nation spoke of organizing for a national or state health care plans. Calling the meeting an “historic conference that will mark the beginning of the movement to bring health care to all,” Dr. Quentin Young from Physicians for a National Health Program focused on the needless deaths resulting from 45 million Americans lacking health care insurance. Dr. Rudy Muller, a physician from upstate New York, said that it was not just a question of getting coverage to those who don’t have it. “It is a sick system,” he said. “Who ever heard of ‘pre-existing conditions?’” he asked. “A person with a pre-existing conditions is a sick person, and a system that excludes sick people does the opposite of giving care,” he added. The American Medical Students Association was officially represented and presented a video they had prepared in support of HR 676.

The conference formed a steering committee to build a movement to pass HR 676 or its equivalent. Conference organizers, Rick and Michelle Tingling-Clemmons and Joel Siegel, Conyers’ legislative aide, urged supporters to go to the website of Campaign for a National Health Program Now (cnhpnow.org) to sign a petition in support of HR 676.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.