Keep organizing for single-payer health care, Conyers urges

PHILADELPHIA — Hundreds of people at a town hall meeting here heard Michigan Congressman John Conyers urge continued organizing and lobbying for the U.S. National Health Insurance Act (HR 676), commonly known as the single-payer Medicare for All bill.

The March 7 forum, held at the Penn Newman Center, was sponsored by Physicians for a National Health Program, Health Care for All Philadelphia and Health Care Now.

“Get involved with democracy. We’re on a roll,” said Conyers, the author of HR 676. “Do not underestimate what person-to-person communication with your congressional representative can accomplish.”

Conyers said he was not invited to President Obama’s March 5 Health Care Summit until he threatened to go to the president. Earlier, he had been told single-payer was “off the table,” he said. Ultimately, he and other single-payer advocates were included.

Speaking at another event at Thomas Jefferson University here, Conyers said President Obama will not back single-payer health coverage now because he’s got too much on his plate — two wars and an economic crisis — and he has to settle for health care reform he can get, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Conyers told that gathering Obama would push through a public-private reform package — keeping private employer-based insurance and expanding a Medicare-like system — “if he’s lucky.”

Given a choice, people will choose the public plan, Conyers told the town hall meeting. (In a recent New York Times poll, 67 percent favored national, single-payer health care.) But insurance companies don’t want to share — they want to keep their huge profits, he said, so they are pressuring every member of Congress and spending millions to scare the public and keep single-payer “off the table.”

Other speakers said national health insurance would be publicly funded with taxes, mostly payroll taxes, but care would be privately provided. There would be no insurance premiums, co-pays or bills. All Americans would receive comprehensive coverage for all necessary services, including preventative care, rehabilitation, long-term and home care, mental health care, prescription drugs and medical supplies. Families and businesses would pay less than they do now.
Dr. Walter Tsou, former Philadelphia health commissioner, said the U.S. is expected to spend $2.5 trillion this year on health care, yet 45 million people are uninsured. More than 22,000 uninsured people will die because they can’t afford care. Half of those who become bankrupt do so because of medical bills. Meanwhile top insurance CEOs earn multi-million-dollar salaries.

“Can we fix our health care system before it collapses?” he asked.

In Philadelphia alone, more than 160,000 are uninsured, Tsou noted. Twelve hospitals have closed. Temple University Hospital just laid off 500 employees because of deficits. Most of its clients are poor, uninsured and African American. He described health care in Philadelphia as an apartheid system. If HR 676 were enacted, Tsou said, Philadelphia would save more than $539 million a year and every Philadelphian would be entitled to quality care.

Pennsylvania may be the first state to have a single-payer plan if Health Care for All PA is successful in its organizing. The group’s executive director, Chuck Pennacchio, urged local organizing to pass single-payer bills HB 1660 and SB 40 in the state Legislature. Gov. Ed Rendell has promised to sign the legislation if it passes, though Rendell has favored another bill.

Nationally, HR 676 currently has 64 co-sponsors, with additional cosponsors expected. It has been backed by hundreds of union locals and labor councils and by 28 city councils.