WASHINGTON — The fight for universal health care is raging on Capitol Hill with grassroots activists and progressive lawmakers making clear they will not support anything less than reform that provides a strong public option like Medicare.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, June 5, pointing out that the “overwhelming majority” of the 80-member caucus “prefer a single-payer approach” and warning that they will oppose any health care legislation that does not provide a public option.

Said Grijalva, “Americans deserve health care that favors patients over the health insurance companies. They were given decades to control costs, improve quality, and increase access but they have failed. At a minimum, we need to give them real competition in the form of a robust public plan that puts patients first.”

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., the caucus’s other co-chair, added, “Any legislation passed by Congress must include a robust and affordable public option that is available to every American and that provides coverage on a par with any plan put forth by private insurers. This is not a moment to act cautiously or to hide behind hollow buzzwords or skeletal programs … A competitive public option must be at the heart of this proposal.”

The progressive lawmakers also released a nine-point “CPC Principles for a Public Health Care Option,” stipulating that it must take effect concurrently with other reforms and not kick in at some future time of crisis — in other words, that it not be subject to the so-called “trigger” delay mechanism proposed by some.

The public plan must “consist of one entity, operated by the federal government” to keep administrative costs low and provide “a higher standard of care,” the principles specify. It must be “available to all individuals and employers across the nation without limitation” and allow patients their choice of doctors and other providers “similar to the traditional Medicare model.”

The federal government must provide “a level of subsidy and support that is no less than that received by private plans,” the Progressive Caucus principles say.

The government must also “redress historical disparities in underrepresented communities” and provide a “standard package of comprehensive benefits including dental, vision, mental health, and prescription drugs.”

Meanwhile, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., was the lead-off witness in a hearing June 10 on his “Medicare for All” single-payer health care bill (HR 676) before a subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee. Conyers decried Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have contrived to keep his bill “off the table,” adding that two national polls have shown that “universal, single-payer health care reform is the most popular health care system in the minds of most Americans.” He asked, “If you keep it off the table, what are you left with?”

Conyers pointed out that single-payer is “not a new idea … every industrialized country around the world has some variation of it except our own.”

A day earlier, Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., in an interview on CSPAN spoke of his single-payer bill S-703. The private health care system in the U.S., he charged, “is geared to making money for the private insurance companies,” not providing quality health care for the people. He decried the $2.3 trillion spent on health care each year, 18 percent of gross domestic product, or more than $8,000 for each man, woman and child. Yet 47 million people are still without health care insurance.

Any scheme to fix the system that leaves the insurance profiteers in control, he charged, “is like pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into a leaky bucket.”

Jacki Schechner, media spokesperson for Health Care for America Now, told the World, “We are in full support of a strong public health insurance plan. It is the only way to guarantee coverage, control costs, and insure quality and transparency.”

The grassroots movement for health care is mobilizing for a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 25, she said. “We are organizing for what will be the largest health care lobby day ever.”

“We will have visits to the offices of more than 300 members of the Senate and House to tell the lawmakers we need quality, affordable health care for all in 2009,” Schechner said. “Now is the time for people to step up and tell their senators and representatives we want it done.”

Jim Baldridge, a veteran health care worker in Baltimore, said the labor movement is filling buses with union members to attend the rally and lobby day. AFSCME, the Baltimore Central Labor Council and all the coalitions in support of health care reform are mobilizing. “It includes people across the health care reform spectrum whether it be for single-payer or the public option,” he said.

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