It’s time to roll up our sleeves and help mobilize broad support for HR 676, the “Expanded & Improved Medicare for All” bill, introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and endorsed by 50 other congresspersons.

What is new

There are specific actions readers can initiate or join. First, I’d like to highlight what is new that calls for broad movement for single-payer legislation at this moment.

As columnist Carolyn Taylor reported, labor unions are beginning to come out in force in support of the bill. For decades labor has prized and protected its advanced negotiated health benefits. But today, in ever-greater numbers, thousands of workers are losing these benefits. Health benefits are the 800-pound gorilla sitting at every bargaining table. Most recently, GM threatened to unilaterally change benefits if the union refuses to open the contract to renegotiate their “Cadillac” health benefits. In the face of these attacks, labor is looking for other solutions.

Crisis like never before

What else is new? The acceleration of bureaucracy, paperwork, denials of coverage and soaring costs have impacted millions of workers, their families, retirees and seniors. We all feel this crisis in some way like never before. The attacks on Medicare and Medicaid likewise have contributed to the crisis — and looming in the minds of many people is January 2006, when further devastating cuts will be implemented.

Additionally, the bottom line for companies which now provide decent health benefits is sorely impacted as they compete with those which don’t in this age of globalization. These companies would benefit with the enactment of HR 676.

Americans support

national health care

The situation today is a perfect storm, beset on all sides. In response to this storm, the American people are coming down solidly on the side of national health care. A recent Pew study shows 65 percent of people, from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats, in favor of national health care, even if it means more taxes.

Finally, the other new element is the emergence of an organization determined to build a grassroots campaign to win HR 676.

Healthcare-NOW (formerly cnhpNOW) is co-chaired by Dr. Quentin Young, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Plan; Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers; and Jim Winkler, general secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church. Its goal is to revitalize the health care movement at the grassroots level.

Last December, Healthcare-NOW sent out a mass e-mail calling for Citizen/Congressional Hearings at the local level. Seventy cities are organizing for these hearings.

Action plan

Here’s my action plan for those who want to help win this fight. First, go to If your city is listed as organizing for a hearing, contact the local organizer to help build the hearing. If not, start calling people together to plan a hearing in your city. The web site has a lot of good help in planning if you need it. My experience is that people were eager to get involved. You can also call (800) 453-1305.

At the web site, you’ll also see plans to celebrate Medicare’s 40th birthday, July 29, with a call to enact “Expanded & Improved Medicare for All.”

Bake a cake

People all around the country are baking cakes and bringing them to their congressional representative urging them to sign on and support HR 676. In my town, Bellingham, Wash., we’ve made a giant greeting card with the message and we’re tabling and sending it to meetings for signatures.

Many currents converge in the fight for HR 676: universal health care; moves to reverse the devastating cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and to reverse the push towards privatization; highlighting the waste of money for the Iraq war while people at home suffer. HR 676 could blunt the racist effects of health care in our country; and, yes, labor could stand on firmer ground by leading in this fight and by getting the 800-pound gorilla off the bargaining table.