(IPS) Unions, Groups Coalesce for Universal Health Care

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With additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale.

This article originally appeared on the Inter-Press Service website at: http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=43176

ATLANTA, Georgia, Jul 14 (IPS) – A coalition of over 100 national and local organisations representing labour unions, doctors, nurses, women, small businesses, religious groups, racial minorities, and think tanks has launched a new campaign in 53 U.S. cities to demand quality, affordable health care for every United States citizen.

There are currently over 47 million U.S. citizens without health insurance, and millions more who are underinsured.

However, advocates of single-payer universal health care have criticised the campaign, called Health Care for America Now (HCAN), for keeping private insurance companies in their plan.

Single-payer universal health care is basically what Canada and many countries in Europe, like France, have, where the government directly pays physicians for providing care to patients.

Currently, a bill in the U.S. Congress to enact single-payer coverage by Rep. John Conyers has 92 co-sponsors. Hundreds of local, state and national unions and labour councils have supported the plan.

As an alternative, HCAN offers a 10-point plan grounded in giving people options: keeping their current private health insurance plan if they are satisfied; switching to a new private health insurance plan; or choosing a public health insurance plan.

Basically, what HCAN is advocating for is a multi-payer, both private and public system.

“We’re offering a bold new solution that gives people a real choice and a guarantee of quality coverage they can afford,” Larry Pellegrini, executive director of the Georgia Rural Urban Summit, said at the Georgia State Capitol last week.

HCAN also calls on the government to set and enforce rules on the insurance industry, which critics say charges whatever prices it wants, sets high deductibles, denies coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and drops coverage when people get sick.

HCAN is a nonprofit lobbying organisation, initially funded by at least 500,000 dollars from each of the 13 original steering committee groups and a 10-million-dollar grant from the New York-based Atlantic Philanthropies. It has made spending millions for advertisements aired on corporate television networks a major part of its campaign.

Organisations participating in HCAN include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Americans United for Change, Campaign for America’s Future, Centre for American Progress Action Fund, Centre for Community Change, MoveOn.org, National Education Association, National Women’s Law Centre, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and USAction.

“The problem is, and this has been studied time and time and time again, the obstacle to universal health care is the private insurance industry and the fractured system of financing, a multi-payer insurance system. As long as you have that, you can’t control costs,” Rita Valenti, a Georgia representative for Health Care-Now, a national group supporting single-payer, told IPS.

Health Care-Now and the new group, Health Care for America Now, sound alike but are two very different organisations.

“What a single-payer plan allows for that a multi-payer does not are economies of scale,” Valenti said. “It allows purchasing of equipment, pharmaceuticals, and various goods at bulk rate. It also reduces the bureaucracy of multiple billing plans. You go into a doctor’s office, you will see more billing clerks than doctors. You go into a hospital, and there is an army of billing clerks.”

“I am not criticising our local friends. I just think we have to be smart about this. This stuff comes down like a railroad train from up above. And the name sounds like Health Care-Now,” Valenti said.

Pellegrini told IPS his group decided not to focus on single-payer because it is preferable to give citizens a choice.

“The campaign doesn’t preclude a single-payer plan being part of it… The idea is to make the campaign something that everyone could get behind,” he said.

“Say you have people with private insurance that they really like that want to support reforms for everyone, but just happen to have something they don’t want to give up. We can embrace those people. You don’t want to feel like they have something taken away from them,” Pellegrini said.

He also argued that by making publicly financed health care available to everyone, it will force private insurance companies to become more competitive.

At last Tuesday’s rally in Atlanta, Charlie Fleming, president of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labour Council, said health insurance is always the number one issue at every negotiation between labour leaders and employers.

“This year, America makes a choice. We in the labour movement know our country is going in the wrong way. Nothing shows it more clearly than health care. The AFL-CIO union movement is fighting for a unique American plan for secure, high-quality health care for all that builds on the best about American health care,” Fleming said.

Krista Brewer, president of the Atlanta chapter of Women’s Action for New Directions, said the money spent on the U.S. invasion of Iraq could be better spent on health care for all U.S. citizens.

“A secure AmericaÂ…are things like an educated work force, bridges and levees that don’t collapse, and perhaps most importantÂ… a healthy population,” Brewer said. “Our system of health care delivery is broken and needs fixing.”

Leola Reis, Vice President of External Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Georgia, spoke of the importance of preventive health care.

“Prevention works, yet 47 million Americans lack insurance and access to basic preventive care,” Reis said. “More than 17 million women need subsidized family planning services and there’s not enough funding to meet the need.”

“Uninsured women are at a substantially higher risk for undetected medical issues and consistently report lower rates for screening tests for many conditions. These uninsured health disparities are unacceptable in the 21st Century.”

(END/2008)

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com. Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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