People push Medicare For All, as congressional advocates back off
Medicare For All/Twitter

WASHINGTON—As citizens keep campaigning from coast to coast for Medicare For All, Congress appears to be even cooler to the cause than it was in prior years.

In 56 cities from Washington to San Francisco, thousands of people marched for single-payer government-run health care on July 24.  But 170 congressional Democrats, and, now, 17 unions are backing improvements in traditional Medicare, first.

That isn’t the only hurdle facing Medicare For All. Lawmakers have yet to even hold a hearing on the single-payer plan, which would cover everyone for everything, including doctor and hospital visits, plus dental, vision, and hearing benefits. That’s unlike the last Congress.

Then, under pressure from National Nurses United and other advocates, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ordered hearings on Medicare For All. Then she told Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the key committee chair on health care issues, to bury it.

If solons were to listen to citizens, they’d hear stories such as that from Joy Marie Mann, one of the speakers at the D.C. rally just 12 blocks from the Capitol.

Mann woke up 18  months ago barely able to see. But her sudden myopic degeneration is one big problem. Her other problem: Despite her specialist’s letter saying she needs unique medications to prevent herself from totally going blind, she has to fight with her insurance company to get them to pay.

Their denial of her care, despite years of coverage and thousands of dollars in premiums and out-of-pocket costs, is just one example, among millions, of why the nation needs Medicare For All and the end of the entire U.S. for-profit health care non-system, she told more than 100 people gathered for the D.C. rally and follow-up march.

Medicare For All, advocates say, would eliminate the rapacious insurance companies, their high co-pays and deductibles, huge profits, multi-million-dollar executive salaries, abrupt decisions to drop which drugs they pay for, denials of care and—studies show—44,000 needless deaths every year of subscribers whom they refuse to cover when they get sick.

Mann’s one of those who has to fight her insurer for coverage. Her medications cost $12,000 per eye for 30 days. “They tell me, ‘Sign this form. If you don’t, you have to pay $24,000.’ Or I have to live with 15% eyesight.”

The insurers even denied her the $1,500 for a special large-type machine that scrolled her remarks. That’s despite insurers claiming they cover such durable medical equipment. “I couldn’t read a book for over a year” because she couldn’t afford the device, Mann said.

“If you have to call the insurance companies every f—ing day to get coverage, that is not right!” she declared. And after Mann’s sight went south, her job—in health care for the elderly—went south, too. She’s had to start a “Go Fund Me” internet drive to pay the bills.

The Medicare For All movement appears to be losing momentum in Congress, even though the coronavirus pandemic has torn open the gaping holes in U.S. health care.

Not only has Medicare For All bill, HR1976, introduced in March, gone nowhere, but 17 unions announced July 17 they support legislation to bolster traditional Medicare itself. That measure would lower eligibility for Medicare to age 60, add dental, vision, and hearing coverage, and free Medicare to negotiate down prescription drug prices with Big Pharma. Democratic President Joe Biden, who opposes Medicare For All, offered those proposals.

At least the president of one of those unions, James Slevin of the Utility Workers, pointedly added that expanding traditional Medicare is a step towards Medicare For All.

The for-profit health care system devours one of every six dollars in U.S. gross domestic product, by far the highest share in the world,  but does not give the U.S. people the highest-quality care in the world, figures show. The U.S. lags other developed nations in life expectancy and maternal mortality, with women of color three times as likely to die in childbirth as whites. And medical costs are the leading cause of personal bankruptcies.

Medicare For All/Twitter

“The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the flaws in our nation’s health care system,” the letter, released by National Nurses United,  the leading pro-Medicare-For-All union, says. “The burden of these failures has fallen squarely on millions of working people across the country.

“The American labor movement has fought for more than a century to make quality health care a basic right in the United States. On behalf of our collective membership, we urge you to take action in the American Families Plan package to improve health care for millions of Americans by improving and expanding the Medicare program.”

“Nurses across the country have had to counsel and talk with patients who cannot afford care, and often watch as patients who decide not to seek care for financial reasons have simple health issues become life-threatening later on,” added National Nurses United Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. Her union has led the decade-long charge for Medicare For All.

“Whether it is lifesaving drugs, critical surgeries, or even just simple procedures, we see day in and day out how many people are being left behind by our current for-profit health care system.

“Simply put: By lowering the eligibility age and expanding Medicare coverage, Congress has the opportunity to save millions of lives and prevent millions from going into financial ruin because of health care costs.”

The other union signers were the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Government Employees (AFGE), the Teachers (AFT), the Postal Workers Union, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees/Teamsters, the Communications Workers, the Professional and Technical Engineers, the Painters, the Auto Workers, the Letter Carriers, National Nurses United, the Office and Professional Employees, the Transport Workers, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers and the Steelworkers.

“Expanding Medicare benefits as far as possible would move us that much closer to a truly single payer health care system,” Utility Workers President Slevin contended. “Including provisions in the American Families package to improve and expand the Medicare program would be a significant step in the right direction.”

The Medicare For All advocates also face another obstacle: Big money in corporate campaign contributions, and a campaign of lies against Medicare For All run by Big Pharma and its allies. They’ve spent millions, especially on Internet platforms, to malign single-payer.

OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan organization which tracks both campaign finances and lobbying spending, reported health care companies spent $637.44 million on politics in the 2019-20 election cycle alone, the fourth-highest figure among all special interests. They spent another $621 million on lobbying lawmakers at the same time—and about $120 million more on influence-peddling in the first four months of 2021.

About half of the 2019-20 contributions went to Democrats and party campaign committees. The rest split between Republicans and “independent expenditure” issue ads.


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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