NEW YORK – “Health care is a life or death question,” said Scott Marshall, Communist Party USA (CPUSA) Labor Secretary, at a recent national meeting here. “Sixty million people are without health care each year, and that number is growing. People are being turned away from hospitals, being denied medicine – people are dying because of this crisis.”

The meeting, sponsored by the CPUSA, focused on the crisis in the current health care system and the need to do something about it.

People without health insurance have a 25 percent higher mortality rate than others, said Sarita Gupta of Jobs with Justice. “The crisis impacts even worse on communities of color,” Gupta added. “Forty percent of Latinos and 20 percent of African Americans are uninsured.”

Pedro Rodriguez, a member of the Alliance for Retired Americans, said, “With the rising cost of prescription drugs, [senior citizens] have to choose between food and medicine, or housing and medicine.”

United Steelworkers of America member, Bruce Bostik, said that in addition to the heavy human cost of the present system, there is also an economic cost. The crisis in the steel industry, he said, was caused in part by the healthcare system. U.S. steel companies, which have to pay a large cost for health care, are less able to compete with companies in countries where the governments bear these costs.

Conference participants worked out strategies for the battle to bring about healthcare for all. The conference resolved that a bill introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) “is the one national bill that’s out there that gives us a handle to begin to coalesce around in terms of a national movement.”

The bill, HR-676, would extend Medicare to cover all people in the United States. The plan would guarantee health care to everyone, and would not allow private insurance that duplicates benefits to exist. Conference participants agreed that support for this bill should not be seen as a counter to other health legislation that has been introduced into Congress. Participants resolved to work for Congressional endorsements of the bill and to help find a Senate sponsor, emphasizing the fight at the grassroots level.

Everyone agreed the labor movement must be an integral part of any successful campaign to bring about a universal healthcare system, noting that it is already moving ahead on this struggle.

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