Retirees, unions oppose GOP health care bill
Rick Bowmer/AP

WASHINGTON (PAI) — The nation’s two big retiree groups, the labor-backed Alliance for Retired Americans and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) are gearing up to defeat Congress’ ruling Republicans’ health care bill. The Senate is now the battle scene.

And with several GOP senators expressing doubts about the measure and its impact on their states, unionists and their allies have a shot at beating it – even if Senate Republicans, writing their own plan, modify the draconian measure the GOP-run House passed earlier.

The House bill would strip health care coverage from at least 24 million people and cause huge, and often unaffordable, premium increases for millions more, analysts say.

AARP, the nation’s largest organization of retirees, is already sending out mailers and running broadcast, cable and radio ads against the GOP plan. The Alliance is mobilizing its three million members to lobby lawmakers against it, Executive Director Richard Fiesta says.

And even Miss USA is against it. Kara McCullough, 25, a Treasury Employees member who works for the federal government, calls health care a right, not a privilege.

“House Republicans succeeded in making a very bad health care bill” – their first proposal – “even worse,” said Fiesta. “Access to health care is a right, not a privilege. Allowing people who are sick or older to be discriminated against because they have a pre-existing condition is unacceptable. Retirees will be speaking out in strong opposition to this proposal.”

What’s in the bill

The GOP measure not only does not cut health care costs or ensure universal coverage, but particularly socks people with pre-existing conditions. That’s an estimated 84 percent of everyone aged 55-64, Fiesta noted. The GOP measure would let insurers deny them coverage, unless they are federal lawmakers and congressional staffers.

It also would let insurers charge older Americans – those not covered by Medicare or Medicaid – five times as much as other people, compared to a 3-to-1 ratio under the Affordable Care Act, he noted. The GOP’s “American Health Care Act” would repeal the 7-year-old ACA.

To push the GOP bill through, “House Republicans and GOP President Donald Trump are…willing to sacrifice health care for the most vulnerable citizens. While not explicitly eliminating coverage, anyone with a serious health condition would face such high premiums that it would be virtually impossible for them to afford health insurance. It’s a cynical plan, and the American people will not be fooled by it,” Fiesta predicted.

Unions are also trying to mobilize their members to stop the GOP legislation. They appear to be succeeding: Republicans who attempt to defend it out on the hustings are broadcasting mixed messages about their own measure to crowds of angry constituents in meetings – when they dare have them – that have stretched up to five hours.

Union constituents speak out

The Kentucky AFL-CIO posted an interview with Leslie McColgin of Graves County. She blasted her right wing freshman GOP congressman, Rep. James Comer, for voting for the legislation – now called Trumpcare – and celebrating its passage with other white male GOP reps in a White House Rose Garden event, filled with cheers, accompanying Trump.

“Focus on making the House Republicans feel pain for their vote every way you can,” McColgin, a breast cancer survivor, challenged everyone. “Keep calling them and writing and faxing letters and tweeting. Hopefully show up at the town halls if you can. This will signal the Senate they better not go down this road. Then get to work on the Senate side of this. But don’t let up on the House!”

National Nurses United, which has almost 200,000 RNs, took its campaign against the GOP legislation to the Senate, and specifically to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. His panel nominally writes health care bills, even though a 13-man all-Republican group of senators is really doing the heavy lifting on the legislation now.

Hatch sent a male health care aide, young and bearded, out to meet the more than 100 NNU members who descended on his office. The aide listened politely as the nurses, mostly women, told him how the GOP bill would harm their patients – and campaigned for their alternative, single-payer government-run health care for all.

“Our patients’ lives are at risk,” NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN, told him. “We take care of patients every day who are dying because they can’t afford their cancer treatment, can’t take their chronic medications, or can’t afford their co-pays and premiums to get into the hospital for care.”

Hatch, however, may be turning a deaf ear. He previously told a reporter “The public wants every dime they can be given. Let’s face it, once you get them on the dole, they’ll take every dime they can.” NNU Collective Bargaining Director retorted, to Hatch’s aide: “That does not sound like a champion of health care when you call receiving health care ‘the dole.’”

“Patient groups, healthcare providers, and voters in blue states, red states, and purple states alike have already spoken out repeatedly against this cruel and dangerous legislation,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders, whose union also includes tens of thousands of nurses and other health care workers. The House and Trump “chose to ignore their pleas. It now falls to the Senate to finally listen to the American people and stop this bill in its tracks.”

“Every element of this healthcare repeal will deeply damage the health and livelihoods of millions of working families who already struggle to pay their bills and provide healthcare,” added Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry, whose union also includes hundreds of thousands of health care workers. The Senate must do its job and serve as a check on the self-interested House by taking a stand for working families, stopping this outrageous tax giveaway at our expense, and saving millions from financial and personal disaster.”


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.