National Nurses United readies new Medicare For All push
Registered Nurses conduct a demonstration in Lafayette Park to read aloud names of health care providers who have contracted COVID-19 and died as a result of treating infected patients on April 21, 2020. In preparation for the opening of the 118th Congress in January, NNU is preparing a new Medicare For All push. | Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP

OAKLAND, Calif.—National Nurses United is gearing up for a new drive to enact Medicare For All, but its organizers realize the campaign may take a while. Not only does the union face the moneyed opposition of the insurance and hospital lobbies, but it must overcome a “not-that” attitude from Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.

Nevertheless, the union will forge ahead with the drive. It again argues universal government-run health care is the least costly, most patient-friendly alternative to the U.S. health care non-system that features out-of-control hospital profits over people, union President Zenei Cortez, RN, says.

That system also produces insurers’ denial of care and for-profit hospitals refusal to protect workers even in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. And NNU documented record hospital profits and enormous ratios between hospital charges and actual costs of care in a report released Nov. 17. It’s at www.nationalnursesunited.org.

NNU has long been organized labor’s single strongest advocate of government-run single-payer Medicare For All, eliminating the health insurers and their lobby, their overhead, their high premiums, deductibles, and co-pays—and the high unnecessary death toll their denial of care produces.

The pandemic has only made a bad U.S. health care system worse, Cortez reported. Nationally, more than 2,000 health care workers—RNs, doctors, staffers, and others—have tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 200 health care workers are among the 250,000+ total U.S. deaths.

And NNU’s 150,000-plus registered nurse members have repeatedly described how insurers deny care to patients, who in turn often don’t come to hospitals until their conditions have dramatically worsened. Meanwhile, for-profit hospital chains set profit records, even during the pandemic, Cortez’s organizers reported.

NNU’s organizers shared that data and their conclusions in a mass Zoom conference call in November. They outlined both immediate and long-term steps for their campaign. That includes pushing Medicare For All not just in Washington, but in the states, too.

The revised and updated Medicare For All legislation, introduced by House Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., attracted 108 original co-sponsors there. It also forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who considered it too radical, to order two committee hearings on it last year. But Pelosi made clear Medicare For All would stop there.

Over in the Senate, Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., attracted 14 original co-sponsors to Medicare For All and repeatedly, gleefully declared “I wrote the damn bill!” on the presidential primary trail earlier this year.  But it never even got a hearing in the GOP-run Senate.

That back-of-the-hand dismissal from party leaders didn’t stop Republicans from hanging both Medicare For All and the Green New Deal around congressional Democrats’ necks this election year. The GOP waved the red flag of “Socialism!” at both, picked up half a dozen House seats, and let Dems gain only one Senate seat when they planned for more.

It also produced a distinct differentiation by Biden. He supports strengthening and expanding the 10-year-old Affordable Care Act. As Barack Obama’s VP, Biden helped push it through Congress on party-line votes. Now he wants to expand its Medicaid eligibility and insert a “public option,” considered a weak form of Medicare For All, but go no further.

Now NNU and other advocates must start all over again collecting congressional backers for the legislation in the upcoming 118th Congress—with the insurance and hospital lobbies already pumping millions into an anti-Medicare For All campaign, and closely watching for any erosion in congressional support.

And hanging over all this is the GOP-crafted U.S. Supreme Court case to completely trash the ACA as unconstitutional, throwing the entire U.S. back onto the mercy, or lack of it, of the insurers and their edicts to hospitals to cut costs by cutting personnel and denying care.

To both sign up lawmakers and intensify the drive, NNU will establish a school to train Medicare For All organizers, create and implement Medicare Par Todos, an outreach campaign to Spanish-speakers, intensify its state-level lobbying, particularly in California, and stage meetings with individual lawmakers as well as a national week of action on the issue in February. The union and its allies will descend on D.C. to lobby.

There will also be congressional district organizers/leaders nationwide to put pressure on lawmakers at home, and follow-up contacts, with other meetings, by Zoom, mail, and phone, to garner legislative support. Those contacts, organizers said, will go beyond congressional Democrats and be heavily important in GOP-held districts—especially rural districts—where constituents are losing doctors, hospitals, and access to medical care.

“Communities have responded” to the campaign for Medicare For All “when they see drastic increases in corporate consolidation” of hospital chains, which now cover almost three-fourths of all U.S. for-profit hospitals and which “lead to higher out-of-pocket costs to patients,” Cortez said. “That’s unjustified,” she said of hospital and insurer money-making on patients’ suffering.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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