Health care struggles sweep Ohio

As poll numbers for the Republicans who currently rule Ohio continue to drop to record lows, the issue of health care justice is emerging as a key electoral issue in this swing state. A series of struggles for health care justice are developing throughout Ohio.

Thousands of Ohioans are expected at a May 6 demonstration at the Statehouse in Columbus in observance of Cover the Uninsured Week. The focus is on the over 1.3 million Ohioans now without any heath coverage. The sponsoring list for the action has swelled to 83 organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the Steelworkers union, Unite Here, the Autoworkers, the Service Employees union, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, Physicians for National Health Care, the Friends Service Committee, the Democratic Party, many retiree and women’s organizations, as well as the two major organizations driving the health care fight in Ohio — Single Payer Action Network (SPAN) and Universal Health Care Action Network (UHCAN).

This year’s rally will be spurring support for a statewide petition drive organized by the new SPAN organization to place a state single-payer health care program on the ballot. SPAN spokespersons say they have already collected half the signatures needed to achieve ballot status.

The statewide movement has also been building support for HR 676 (Conyers-Kucinich Bill) for a national single-payer health care program. At least four Ohio cities and a county have passed resolutions urging passage of this measure. A half dozen other cities are considering similar motions.

Local struggles for health care justice have also sprung up throughout the state. In Cleveland, a coalition organized by UHCAN and several unions is proposing legislation that would require all hospitals receiving public support in that city to provide free treatment to anyone with an income less than twice the poverty rate. The bill also provides for a sliding scale of discounts for folks making more. The Cleveland City Council is holding public hearings on the need for universal health care. Earlier public hearings sponsored by SPAN and UHCAN were attended by hundreds in the city in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the Steelworker retirees’ ReUnion Project has set up 16 mass meetings on health care across Ohio. The project seeks to mobilize the thousands of steelworkers, friends and families who retired or lost jobs in the manufacturing crisis of the 1990s. Thousands are expected to attend the meetings, which will include meals and a presentation on the need for health care reform. The meetings are set for Cleveland, Clairton, Columbus, Cincinnati, Lorain, Toledo, Warren, Youngstown, Findley, Sandusky, Woodsville, Canton, Girard, Struthers, Ashtabula and Akron. At the meetings, attendees can sign up for USW activist groups and get involved in health care struggles.

In Lorain, a labor-based coalition including the USW and SEIU is building community support. Over 300 people attended a public hearing to demand that the local publicly supported hospital cease its practice of suing poor folks over medical bills. The movement was successful and the hospital has backed off this practice. The coalition is now working to support SEIU hospital workers in their upcoming contract fight.

In the state capital, ACORN activists launched a successful drive to reform hospital treatment for indigent patients.

The mushrooming health care movement is expected to impact the upcoming statewide elections. Labor-supported candidates Ted Strickland (for governor) and Sherrod Brown (for U.S. Senate), both Democrats, are making support for universal health care central planks in their campaigns.

Meanwhile, GOP fortunes are looking bleak. A recent Cleveland Plain Dealer state poll showed likely voters favoring Democrats to Republicans, 41 percent to 28 percent. While the state moves forward demanding real health care reform, GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell’s troubled campaign is centered on issues of abortion, “gay marriage” and a “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights” — a state funding gimmick which most even in his own party are already opposing.

Call (440) 396-6707 or (866) 365-2203 toll-free for information on events.

Bruce Bostick (bruce161@centurytel.net) is a 35-year steelworker who works on special projects for the USW.