For the health care bill that is emerging in the Senate "to be worthy of the support of working men and women, substantial changes must be made," declared Richard Trumka, the federation's president in a statement this afternoon. The statement, which followed by 24 hours an emergency session during which the federation's executive council discussed the Senate compromise, said, "The AFL-CIO intends to fight on behalf of all working families to make those changes and win health care reform that is deserving of the name.
"The absolute refusal of Republicans in the Senate to support health care reform and the hijacking of the bill by defenders of the insurance industry has brought us a bill that is inadequate," said Trumka. "It is too kind to the insurance industry."
The official AFL-CIO statement on the compromise measure lists three changes that it says should be made in the Senate bill.
First, the federation wants a public health insurance option which it described as "the way to break the stranglehold of the insurance industry over consumers that has led to double digit premium increases virtually every year."
Second, the statement says, more must be done to make employers pay their fair share of the costs of reform
A third "must," according to the statement, is that "the benefits of hard-working Americans cannot be taxed to pay for health care reform - that's no way to rein in insurance companies and it's the wrong way to pay for health care reform."
Trumka did indicate, however, that the federation considers some parts of the Senate bill to be positive. "It will provide health insurance to 30 million more Americans and provide subsidies to low-income individuals and families," he said. "Benefits will have to meet minimum standards and insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or impose lifetime or unreasonable annual limits. The bill also included some relief for plans with early retirees as well as delivery system reforms that may lead to lower costs over the long haul."
Trumka noted, however, that "because the bill bends toward the insurance industry, it will not check costs in the short term, and its financing asks working people and the country to pay the price. The House bill is the model for genuine health care reform. Working people cannot accept anything less than real reform."
At a Thursday press conference the Service Employees International Union indicated that it too is seeking similar improvements in the Senate bill and specified that it hopes the House-Senate conference on the bill will result in some of those improvements.
"We think it's time for the Senate to take a vote," declared Andy Stern, the union's president.
"It's time for the obstructionists to get out of the way and it's time to write the final chapter on this health care bill. It's time to move to conference and we will fight so that the process there will result in something better than what we see in the Senate now."