Tag Archives: Medicare for All

Bernie Sanders Defends Medicare-for-All, Attacks Insurance Companies, Big Pharma for Dysfunctional, High-Cost Healthcare

Bernie Sanders, seen at a Brooklyn rally, is defending his signature plan, Medicare-for-All, and blaming the greed of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries as the reason for dysfunctional, high cost health care system that causes 30,000 premature deaths a year and bankrupts 530,000 Americans a year. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, running to be the Democratic nominee for president, on July 17 delivered a major address on Medicare for All, coinciding with the 54th anniversary of Medicare being signed into law. In his remarks, Sanders outlined his plan to make health care a human right for all Americans. Here is highlighted transcript of remarks as they were prepared for delivery: – Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Thank you all very much for being here to discuss one of the major crises facing our country.  Let me also thank the dozens of organizations throughout America who support Medicare for All and the tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and other health professionals who support my legislation.  Let me thank the 14 Senate co-sponsors that we have on this legislation and the 118 Members of the House who support similar legislation.  And mostly, let me thank the American people who by the millions understand, as I do, that health care is a human right, not a privilege.

Together, we will end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all of its citizens.  

It is not acceptable to me, nor to the American people, that some 87 million people today are either uninsured or underinsured.

It is not acceptable to me that we end up spending almost twice as much as any other major country on health care, while our life expectancy continues to decline and our healthcare outcomes lag behind many other countries.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of talking to doctors who tell me about the patients who died because they were uninsured or underinsured, and walked into the doctor’s office when it was too late.  And we are talking about over 30,000 Americans who die every year because they are uninsured or under-insured.  What a tragedy. 

I am sick and tired of seeing working class families and small businesses pay far more for healthcare than they can afford, and 530,000 Americans declare bankruptcy each year because they cannot pay off the outrageous cost of a medical emergency or a hospital stay.  Families should not be driven into financial ruin because someone in the family became seriously ill.  How insane is that?

I am sick and tired of hearing from Americans who lost loved ones because they could not afford the unbelievably high cost of prescription drugs, or hearing from constituents who are forced to cut their pills in half due to the cost. 

In fact, later this month, I will be travelling from Detroit, Michigan to Windsor, Ontario with a busload of Americans who have diabetes in order to purchase insulin in Canada at one-tenth of the price that they pay in America.

I am sick and tired of talking with people who are struggling with mental illness but cannot afford the mental health counseling they desperately need. 

I am tired of talking to people who have teeth that are rotting in their mouths, but cannot afford the high cost of dental care

Let me be very honest and tell you that, in my view, the current debate over Medicare for All really has nothing to do with healthcare.  It has everything to do with greed and the desire of the healthcare industry to maintain a system which fails the average American, but which makes the industry tens and tens of billions of dollars every year in profit. 

It is about whether we maintain a dysfunctional system which allows the big drug and health insurance companies to make over $100 billion in profits last year, while the top CEOs in that industry made $2.6 billion in total compensation – all the while 1 out of 5 Americans cannot afford the prescription drugs their doctors prescribe.

It’s about whether we maintain a system in which the CEO of the Aetna insurance company, Mr. Mark Bertolini, received a golden parachute worth nearly $500 million after his company merged with CVS Health, while elderly people lack the resources to purchase a hearing aid.

It’s about whether we maintain a system that allows the former CEO from Gilead (John Martin) to become a billionaire by charging $1,000 a pill for a hepatitis c drug called Sovaldi that costs a dollar to manufacture.

Let us make no mistake about it.  The struggle that we are now undertaking, to guarantee health care to all Americans as a right and to substantially lower the cost of prescription drugs, will be opposed by some of the most powerful forces in America – entities that have unlimited amounts of money.  We’re talking about the insurance companies, the drug companies, private hospitals, medical equipment suppliers, Wall Street and other powerful entities.  

Let me make a prediction. In order to defeat the Medicare for All movement, powerful special interests will be spending millions on 30 second television ads, full page magazine ads, and corporate-sponsored “studies” to frighten the American people about Medicare for All – which is exactly what happened before the passage of Medicare in the 1960s. They failed then and they’re going to fail now.

And let me give you an example of the kind of money and power we are talking about. 

Over the last 20 years, the insurance industry and pharmaceutical companies have spent more than $330 million in campaign contributions and over $4 billion in lobbying to get Congress to do its bidding. 

The pharmaceutical industry alone has hired some 1,200 lobbyists – including the former leadership of both political parties.

I find it quite interesting that Billy Tauzin, the Republican Congressman who wrote the bill to prevent Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices and then went on to become the President and CEO of Pharma, received over $11.6 million in compensation in 2010.

That’s how business is done in Washington.  Well, I have a different vision of what a rational healthcare system is all about.  Instead of massive profits for the drug companies, the insurance companies and Wall Street, we must provide a healthcare system that provides quality healthcare to all in a cost effective way.

And that is exactly what Medicare for All does.

Under this legislation, every family in America would receive comprehensive coverage, and middle-class families would save thousands of dollars a year by eliminating their private insurance costs as we move to a publicly funded program.

The transition to the Medicare for All program would take place over four years. In the first year, benefits to older people would be expanded to include dental care, vision coverage and hearing aids, and the eligibility age for Medicare would be lowered to 55. All children under the age of 18 would also be covered. In the second year, the eligibility age would be lowered to 45 and in the third year to 35. By the fourth year, every man, woman and child in the country would be covered by Medicare for All.

Medicare for All will reduce – let me repeat, reduce — overall health care spending while lowering the number of uninsured and underinsured people in this country to zero.   

We accomplish this because Medicare for All creates a system of health care insurance that isn’t designed to generate profits for insurance and drug companies — it will be a system focused on delivering actual health care. It will save lives, save money, and end the frustration of endless paperwork, denials, and desperate fights with an insurance company to cover medically-necessary medications and procedures.

Medicare for All will fully eliminate health insurance premiums, deductibles and co-payments. Make no mistake about it: These are nothing less than taxes on the middle class. 

And when we do that, the average middle class family will save an estimated $3,000 each and every year.

Further, unlike the current dysfunctional system, Medicare for All allows people the freedom to choose any doctor, clinic, and hospital without worrying about whether their provider is in-network or not.  People will be able to make the health care choices that are best for themselves and their families without some insurance bureaucrat telling them which providers they can see or not see. Medicare for All is at the end of the day empowering patients and health care providers. 

In addition, a Medicare for All system will allow us to address the serious problem of medically underserved areas. 

Just to demonstrate how absurd our health care system is, I was in Philadelphia two days ago rallying with the people of that city to try to stop the closure of Hahnemann University Hospital, an important, safety net hospital in that community.  Why do the owners want to close this hospital? Because they can make more money redeveloping that property into condominiums and hotels.

Let me address some of the half-truths, misinformation, and, in some cases, outright lies that people may be hearing about Medicare for All.  

Medicare for All critics tell us that Americans just love their private health insurance companies. We heard this most recently from UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann, who by the way, made $83 million in 2017 and who said Medicare for All would “destabilize the nation’s health system.” 

But let’s remember: the current system is already disrupting and destabilizing millions of people’s lives. In the current system, 50 million Americans every year lose their existing health insurance when their employer changes insurer, when they change jobs, or when they cannot afford their current plan. For many of them, they will no longer be able to see the doctor they have relied on for years.  For others, important treatments for long-term conditions or disabilities will be changed or stopped altogether.  

Here is the simple truth. The American people do not like their private health insurance companies. In fact private health insurance companies are quite unpopular.  What the American people do like are their doctors, nurses and other health care providers. 

While our opponents claim that Medicare for All is too expensive, the reality is that it is much more cost effective than our current system.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that, if we do not change the system, this country will be spending $50 trillion over the next ten years –19.4 percent of our nation’s GDP.  This is unsustainable and will be incredibly harmful to the people of our country, to the business community, and to the entire economy.

And the reason why we spend so much is obvious.  It is not just the huge profits in the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry, but it is the incredible and wasteful bureaucratic maze developed by thousands of different healthcare plans.  Today, hospitals and doctors must deal with patients who have different deductibles, different co-payments, different networks of coverage, and different coverage for pharmaceuticals, or no insurance at all.  All of this is not only driving doctors and nurses and hospital administrators to distraction, but it is wasting up to $500 billion a year on unnecessary administrative costs.

Unlike our current system, there is broad consensus – from conservative to progressive economists – that Medicare for All would result in substantial savings to the American people.  Two of the most recent studies on this issue have estimated that Medicare for All would save the American people between $2 trillion and $5 trillion over a 10-year period.

Let us be clear, the fight against Medicare for All today is not a new development.  Powerful special interests have always opposed healthcare programs that work for the people and not for corporate interests.

Let us not forget that when President Harry Truman first proposed a program guaranteeing health care to seniors that idea was billed as radical, “un-American,” and an attack on basic freedom. And because of that assault, the idea stalled in Congress for years — until voters made their voices heard.

In 1960, America elected John F. Kennedy after he campaigned in support of Truman’s idea. That election prompted serious work on universal health care bill, and Kennedy at the time noted that “what we are now talking about doing, most of the countries of Europe did years ago.”

Finally, following the 1964 Democratic election landslide, the new Congress was able to pass what is now known as Medicare despite intense opposition from the health insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies.

More than a half-century after that achievement, the time is now to go forward.  The time is now to expand Medicare to every man, woman and child in this country. 

Let us be very clear.  When it comes to health care, the insurance and drug industries have been able to control the political process.  

If we are going to break the stranglehold of corporate interests over the health care needs of the American people, we have got to confront a Washington culture that is corrupt, that puts profits before people.

That is why I am calling on every Democratic candidate in this election to join me in rejecting money from the insurance and drug industries. That means not accepting donations over $200 from health insurance or pharmaceutical company PACs, lobbyists or executives. Candidates who are not willing to take that pledge should explain to the American people why those corporate interests believe their campaigns are a good investment.

Of course, President Trump should do the same but I am not going to even waste my breath suggesting that he will.  His efforts to throw 32 million people off their health insurance to have it replaced with junk insurance shows exactly what side he is on.

Finally, let me say, eliminating health insurance and drug company money from the Democratic primary won’t solve all the problems, but it is an important step forward. Now is the time to tell the health care industry that your profits are not more important than the lives of the American people.

See also: Biden Plan for Universal Healthcare: Protect, Build on Obamacare

Republican Health Care Plan is Prescription for Bankruptcy, Premature Death – And They Don’t Care

At a Save Obamacare rally on Long Island in January, Ron Motta kisses his 11-year-old son, Robbie, who was born with a congenital heart defect. He worries about losing access to affordable health care © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

During the Presidents Week recess when Congressmembers are supposed to meet with constituents, I attended two jam-packed rallies focused on saving Obamacare (this followed the rallies held coast-to-coast in the days before the inauguration). In each of these, desperate people (dismissed by Republicans as “paid professional agitators”) stood up to preserve the Affordable Care Act.

While not perfect (after all, how could it be when Obama had to thread a ridiculously tiny needle to get anything passed the Republican wall of opposition), Obamacare has brought coverage to 20 million previously uninsured people, reducing the percentage of uninsured Americans to a historic low of 8.6%, allowed children up to age 26 stay on their parents’ plan, mandated coverage for preexisting conditions, ended lifetime caps, capped the amount of premium that for-profit insurance pocketed for non-patient purposes at 20% (versus 97% that Medicare spends on patient care ), instituted basic standards of coverage that included, for the first time, wellness visits, coverage for certain regular tests (mammograms, colonoscopy).

The secret sauce? Mandating coverage or else pay a penalty, but if you didn’t earn enough to pay, you would be able to get subsidies from the government Why? Because the whole thing revolved around the idea that young and healthy people would pay into the system, bringing down the insurance premium for everyone. And every policy would cover certain basics, like child birth and prostate cancer, mammogram and colonscopy (ending the higher premiums for a woman).

And it was working: in the first place because if people can go to their doctors earlier, get diagnostic tests and catch illnesses earlier, they are less expensive to treat, let alone reduce the amount of suffering while increasing a person’s productivity during their prime years.

Let’s review: before Obamacare, nearly 50 million people were without health insurance and tens of thousands of families were losing health insurance as they were losing their jobs (and homes) to the Bush/Cheney Great Recession.  20,000 people a year were dying needlessly simply for lack of access to affordable health care.

And, for years, for-profit insurance companies, with a 33% margin, were raising premiums at three to five times the CPI each year; routinely dropping doctors, denying coverage, throwing people off for “preexisting conditions.”  Companies were dropping health benefits for employees.

“Preexisting condition? Life is a preexisting condition, resulting from sexual contact and will invariable end in death,” Dr Martha Livingstone,  vice chair of Physicians for a National Health Program, told an overflow audience at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Huntington. “We all have a preexisting condition. We all need health care because we are human beings. How we will get it?”

Congressman Tom Suozzi, who stood in front of SRO town hall at the JCC in Plainview, and again at the Huntington health care rally, and back in January, with Kathleen Rice, at a massive health care rally, said about Obamacare, “Mend it. Don’t End it.”

Ron Widelec of LI Activists and Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-LI 3) at a packed rally to save Obamacare and support universal health care, Huntington, Long Island, NY © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The key problems with Obamacare, people complained, are high deductibles (for the cheapest plans), that premiums rose significantly (after rising at the slowest rate of increase in 50 years and mainly because of the Republican sabotage that prevented the full implementation), and that doctors, and even insurers would change (which happened before, as well).

What Republicans are proposing now, though, doesn’t “fix” any of these problems. In essence, the Republican plan favors the healthy and the wealthy, shifting the burden of payment while providing fewer benefits onto working people, low-income people and the elderly, while – and here is the added bonus – exploding the budget deficit. Millions will lose insurance; costs will skyrocket, and Republicans are ramming it through without “scoring” its impact on the budget or people.

They concocted the bill in secret, are ramming it through without proper analysis, scrutiny or debate, or even “scoring” by the Congressional Budget Office, and here’s the added subterfuge: they are repealing the elements in stages: by 2018 for the first parts (to minimize impact on midterm elections) and by 2020 for the complete repeal (to ease the way for Trump’s reelection).

The Republican plan begins with ending that “freedom killing” mandate, which is the hinge upon which access to affordable health care rests, because by requiring everyone – young, healthy people who might otherwise defray health insurance costs – to purchase, the pool is large enough to keep premiums down for everyone, while covering everything from child birth to mental health to pre-existing conditions.

Instead of a mandate, enforced with a modest tax penalty, to insure that enough healthy, young people are in the pool to lower everyone’s premium while expanding care and access even if there is a pre-existing condition, the Republican plan provides for a 30% “surcharge” if you have let insurance lapse more than 60 days. So if you have lost your job, and therefore your health insurance, and can’t pay, you will only get further and further behind.

NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo warns that 2.7 million New Yorkers would lose health coverage if Republicans repeal Obamacare; the impact on the state’s budget would be $3.7 billion © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The other prime elements:

Instead of subsidies for people who don’t earn enough to purchase health insurance, Republicans want to give tax credits, which only are beneficial if you earn enough to pay. What is more, they want tax credits not to be based on income at all, but on age, so a 60 year old  would get $4000 in tax credits while a 30-year old minimum-wage worker would get $2000 –still only a fraction of the cost of a minimally basic health plan – up to $14,000 in credits for a family.

The other big idea to “afford” health care is the Health Savings Account, which Republicans have wanted forever – another scheme to bolster Wall Street donors, and provide yet another device for the wealthiest to shield income from tax. The flaw is that you need to have enough money to stash away in HSA to begin with. But suppose you get a cancer diagnosis or are hit by a car before you have accumulated sufficient funds? Or you contract some illness that blows through your HSA?  Tough luck.

The GOP plan would  end the Medicaid expansion – when the federal government paid 90% instead of 50% of the state’s Medicaid cost — which will result in 10 million people in 31 states losing health insurance.

Another keystone of the GOP health care con is to give states block grants – a fixed amount that has no correlation to actual need. The interesting thing is that Governors tend not to use the money for its purpose (health care for the poorest residents), but for pet priorities like lowering taxes for businesses.

The Republicans say they want to shift “power” back to the states. But states always had the ability, before, to devise their own health care plan, as long as it met basic standards of the Affordable Care Act. What states want is the ability –and the excuse – not to provide universal coverage.

Republicans will claim that their plan will continue to cover pre-existing conditions. But their idea is to stick people with pre-existing conditions into high-risk pools, which could put the cost out of reach.

Indeed, no one has bothered to mention that Obamacare capped the amount that the for-profit insurance companies could charge for non-patient services – it was at 33% (versus a 3% administrative budget for Medicare) before the ACA, which required 80% of the premium to go to patient services. That is out the window.

An added zinger, just for good, is that the plan ends federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Gotcha!

Rallying for Planned Parenthood at a Save Obamacare rally on Long Island in January. The Republican “repeal and replace” plan calls for total defunding Planned Parenthood. © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Trump proposes to cure the cost problem making it possible to buy insurance across state lines, without saying how that would actually reduce the cost of the premium, under the pretext that “competition” will lower the cost. Except that the same few companies dominate the market in most states, and like airlines, can just raise premiums as they like. Also, this would negate New York’s ability to set standards on insurance companies. And wouldn’t it also mean that New Yorkers would pay the higher premium for Southern obesity?

Most of the changes are phased in – they don’t get implemented until after the 2018 midterm elections, and Obamacare is not completely repealed until after the 2020 elections.

But what Republicans claim is the “unsustainability” of Obamacare is the result of Republicans efforts to sabotage it from day 1. And the first thing that Trump did? Ended enforcement of the mandate and issue a proposal to cut next year’s enrollment period in half allow insurance companies to easily raise deductibles, limit patients’ choice of doctors, and restrict others from getting covered mid-year — even if they have a child or lose their employer-based insurance. Insurance companies are pulling out because the Republicans are intentionally making it impossible for them to do business.

By immediately repealing the mandate as well as the taxes that support Obamacare, it is truly unsustainable and more insurance companies that are planning premium rates and participation now, will either pull out or hike up premiums to ridiculous levels because essentially, they are only insuring sick, older people.

The taxes that pay for the Obamacare health care benefits are also being immediately repealed which will explode the budget deficit, which somehow, Republicans only care about when a Democrat is in the Oval office.

And here is the stunner: the Republicans, who have worked this up in secret, without any debate or public commentary (they dismiss the millions who have come out to town halls, rallies and protests as “paid professional agitators” instead of people with real concerns), plan to shove the legislation through without even scoring by the Congressional Budget Office.  They can’t say how much health insurance will cost in TrumpWorld, or how many people will wind up losing health insurance or who wind up being woefully uninsured because they can only afford a minimal policy that doesn’t actually cover anything. They can’t say how many more employers (only about half were offering health insurance benefits before ACA) will simply stop providing any health care benefit at all. That’s Freedom! That’s Choice!

“Do we want people to have socialized medicine or individual accountability, personal choice, where businesses decide?” Congressman Chris Collins (R-NY) asked hypothetically.

Obamacare did not just benefit the 30 million people who were able to afford health insurance, 20 million of them for the first time. It benefited every American who also has insurance, and every American who has Medicare, as well. And remember the complaints with Obamacare? That deductibles were too high; premiums went up significantly from the first year (except they had traditionally gone up at 3 to 5 times the CPI, without any limits). That doctors left the plan or insurance companies changed the plan to exited the exchanges? The Republican plan does not improve any of this. Instead, it returns health care to the total control of for-profit companies, who can raise premiums at will, drop doctors at will, set lifetime caps or refuse to cover certain procedures.

Health care should be a right, not a privilege reserved with the means to pay for it.  But the Republican mold would create a system of unequal protection throughout the land. If you happen to live in New York State, you are likely to have better access to life saving, life-affirming care for your family than if you live in Texas.

The Republican plan is a prescription for sicker people who don’t get the checkups, early diagnosis and wellness care to prevent more serious (and costly) and deadly maladies. But they don’t care. Indeed, the rightwingers like Freedom Caucus who are howling mad at the American Health Care Act are upset that it is not draconian enough, that it is “Obamacare Light”.

In TrumpWorld, people are back at the mercy of the for-profit health insurance and health care industry, back under the thumb of employers and abusive spouses. Now that’s freedom-killing, as much as it is a death penalty.

It is as Alan Grayson said early in the Obamacare debate: “The Republican health care plan: don’t get sick. The Republicans have a back-up plan in case you do get sick … Die quickly!”

Rightwingers, conservatives don’t hate Obamacare because it smacks of “socialized medicine.” They hate it because they believe when everyone is entitled to health care, there will be a shortage of doctors, of hospital beds. They will have to wait for appointments. They fear “rationing,” not caring that to avoid that feared scenario, it means that 50 million people will be excluded from health care system altogether.

The solution to having truly universal health care is to reform the health care system – more physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, online diagnosis and triage, more early diagnosis and wellness care.

Dr. Martha Livingstone, vice chair of Physicians for a National Health Program: “Life is a preexisting condition, resulting from sexual contact and will invariable end in death. We all have a preexisting condition. We all need health care because we are human beings.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Contrary to the rightwing hysteria (death panels!) Obamacare is not socialized medicine because it bent health care into a pretzel in order to retain for-profit health insurance entities as the gatekeeper between patients and health care. But the epic failure of the Republican plan, which more than restores ultimate control over people’s lives and quality of life to for-profit companies and employers and abusive spouses, will likely result in a true universal, Medicare-for-All, single-payer system.

Trouble is, that won’t happen for decades more, and not until after hundreds of thousands of people have suffered miserably, died needlessly, prematurely, for lack of access to timely, affordable, quality health care.

______________________

© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at  www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

New Yorkers Mobilize for Single Payer, Medicare-for-All Health Care

Republicans may have overplayed their hand: when they sweep Obamacare away, Progressives like Ron Widelec of Long Island Activists intend to push for universal health care: single-payer, Medicare-for-All © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

With the chaos and uncertainty at the federal level, New York Progressives see an opportunity to push for single-payer health care in the state – a plan that has been approved by the Democratic-controlled Assembly, but has been defeated by the Republican-controlled Senate (with the help of the so-called Independent Democratic coalition of state senators who were elected as Democrats but caucus with Republicans).

Hundreds crammed the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington (UUFH), Long Island, under the aegis of Long Island Activists, to build the movement for the state to adopt single-payer health care. (See: Long Island Activists Mobilize to Save Obamacare, Push for Single Payer in NYS)

Long Island Activists rally for universal health care, Huntington, Long Island, Feb. 25, 2017 © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Irrespective of what Republicans do in Congress, Ron Widelec, a member of the steering committee of Long Island Activists (LongIslandActivists.org) said, “There is a lot we can do in New York – people forget we can act locally, not everything happens in Congress. Single payer is a real possibility in New York.”

Widelec exposed the lies that are used to beat back universal health care, despite the fact that every other industrialized nation has such a system:

That universal health care is too expensive, will add trillions of dollars to the national debt – but that is belied by the fact that the US spends twice as much on health care as any other industrialized nation, health care amounts to 1/6 of the entire economy, and the outcomes are poor, with the US ranked 32nd among nations, contradicting the claim that the US offers “the best health care in the world.”

Another lie is that universal health care will result in rationing, ”as if 20 million people with no insurance isn’t rationing, or people who have insurance but can’t afford deductibles or copays isn’t rationing, or insurance companies denying care isn’t rationing,” he said.

Janet Green tells of her experience living under Canada’s universal health care system: “We lived it, loved it – you could choose any doctor you like, be rid of billing, deductibles, copays; to be covered regardless of age, job status, preexisting conditions, personal wealth.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Janet Green, a nurse who lived in Canada for two years and now lives on Long Island, spoke of the difference: “We lived it, loved it – you could choose any doctor you like, be rid of billing, deductibles, copays; to be covered regardless of age, job status, preexisting conditions, personal wealth. No wonder the Canadians love their single payer universal health insurance system with private provision..

“When we moved to Long Island, the unfairness and inefficiency of an increasingly corporatized health care system was increasingly hard to take because I knew another system. I had coverage through husband’s job – but I was angry, not lucky, to be part of such an unfair system.” That included problems with doctors in/out network; merger/replacement of insurance plans, with changing rules, preferred provider lists not once but twice in 4 years. “There is none of that on single payer, no deductibles or copays or networks.

“I saw the misinformation spread by those most affected, the insurance industry –myths about Canadian system.

“North of the border and throughout the rest of the world, it is understood that to be a compassionate, enlightened society, there must be universal health coverage.

Dr. Martha Livingstone, vice chair of Physicians for a National Health Program: “Life is a preexisting condition, resulting from sexual contact and will invariable end in death. We all have a preexisting condition. We all need health care because we are human beings.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Dr. Martha Livingstone,  vice chair of Physicians for a National Health Program, also spoke from experience about Canada’s health program, because she lived in Canada while getting one of her degrees.

“There are only two reasons we don’t have national health insurance Medicare for All – it is 1/6 of the economy and very powerful people are arrayed against us who will do everything in their power to persuade us we can’t have it. And our failure of imagination.

Indeed, it may well be that Republicans have overplayed their hand and the pendulum will swing back much more forcefully. If they succeed in repealing Obamacare and replacing it with Trumpcare, it can cost Republicans to lose Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020, just as Obamacare cost Democrats control in 2010. Instead of Obamacare, which was Obama’s attempt to appease conservatives who demand a for-profit health care system, there will be universal health care, single-payer Medicare for All, a socialized health care system.

She told of a Victoria BC woman whose son had to go to five specialists before a rare brain tumor was diagnosed, treated, so he could survive. “In the states, he would have been one of 45,000 Americans dead of treatable medical conditions because he didn’t have access to timely medical care.

“Preexisting condition? Life is a preexisting condition, resulting from sexual contact and will invariable end in death. We all have a  preexisting condition. We all need health care because we are human beings. How we will get it?

“We are the 99%. We don’t mind paying taxes when they provide for things we need. Who doesn’t want to pay taxes? it’s the billionaires – they want us to be uneducated, unhoused, unfed and if sick, they like us to die [and not be a burden on society]. It is a life/death fight.

“We have to protect the Affordable Care Act, but frankly my dears, ACA was written by the Heritage Foundation, a right wing think tank. It is a Republican plan first put into place by then Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.  You have piece a that‘s public, that funds the majority, and the piece that’s private.

“What Romneycare did, then ACA, was to build on the wildly expensive private for-profit sector of the system. We want to build in the wildly successful, inexpensively administered Medicare program…

“There are only two things wrong with Medicare: it doesn’t cover everything, doesn’t cover everybody. So improve it, Medicare for all.”

But regardless of what happens at the federal level, the state can create its own single-payer plan.

“Let New York be the first to have single-payer.  What it will do for us in New York State is save us $50 billion, and save everybody but the very wealthiest New Yorkers money over what paying now for lousy access to care, where we have narrow networks, where some insurance genius can tell us at any moment, ‘Well, if you looked at p 793.’ The bill gets rid of all that – no copays, deductibles for a human right. We have to reinforce that. We know we won’t get it through the New York Senate this year, but 2018 if we hold their feet to the fire.”

Ron Widelec of Long Island Activists is mobilizing push New York State to adopt universal health care: single-payer, Medicare-for-All © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“This event left me hopeful,” Widelec said before sending everyone off to their breakout sessions to come up with local actions. “The election of Trump wasn’t a hopeful time, but I am hopeful. I believe this is not a matter of left versus right, this is a matter of right versus wrong. One good thing about the 1%: we outnumber them 99 to 1.

“Everybody forward, not one step back.”

Widelec said that events will be posted on LongIslandActivists.org.

______________________

© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at  www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Long Island Activists Mobilize to Save Obamacare, Push for Single Payer in NYS

Ron Widelec of Long Island Activists and Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-LI 3) at a packed rally to save Obamacare and support universal health care, Huntington, Long Island, NY © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Hundreds rallied at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington (UUFH), under the aegis of Long Island Activists, to strategize how to save Obamacare from Republicans who are moving swiftly to repeal it and replace it with something that is far more costly, would knock tens of millions off health insurance, would raise taxes for middle class and working Americans, and essentially be more costly for less care. But the Long Islanders went an extra step: to demand single-payer – that is, Medicare for All – beginning with New York State.

The rally was one of 150 across the country last weekend with some coordination of Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution group.

The activists jammed a main room, overflowed the overflow room, and were lined up outside, producing a kind of echo-effect to cheers and boos inside the hall.

Long Island Activists rally for universal health care, Huntington, Long Island, Feb. 25, 2017.

“Something feels wrong. Public policy in no way reflects public opinion,” said Ron Widelec, a member of the steering committee of Long Island Activists (LongIslandActivists.org).

“We live in the richest country in history, yet 20 million go without health insurance, tens of millions have insurance but can’t afford to use because the deductibles so high – choosing between feeding children or going to a doctor when not feeling well. These are unacceptable choices in a country this wealthy…

“These are life-or-death situations. That’s why people are out here. It turns out, if you try to take away people’s health care, get angry and show up. Tens of thousands die without access to health care, or can’t afford access so that is the same as not having access. People die if they can’t afford an Epipen.

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was not perfect because it was designed to appease conservatives. Indeed, the framework came out of the right-wing think tank, The Heritage Foundation, and was first implemented by Republican Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. Elements such as a public option or a Medicare buy-in were omitted in order to satisfy so-called moderate Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine, who nonetheless voted against the ACA.

“Many members of Congress are dedicated to the idea they can make the situation even worse . Our position is clear: health care is a human right,” he declared to boisterous cheers.

“While no one thinks ACA perfect, it did things we need to fight for,” Widelec said. “ACA didn’t go far enough – a human right doesn’t have co-pays or deductibles.

“On the federal level, there is very little we can do with Congress. We know Republicans want to overthrow ACA… We have to fight to protect Obamacare and put pressure even on those too cowardly to hold town halls [like Long Island Congressmen Peter King and Lee Zeldin].

Long Island Activists rally for universal health care, Huntington, Long Island © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But while progressives all along wanted universal health care – that is, single-payer or what is termed Medicare for All – the most immediate goal is to preserve the key elements of Obamacare: covering young people on their parents’ plan until age 26; pre-existing conditions; no lifetime caps; a cap of no more than 20% of the premium going for non-patient spending , and minimal standards for what insurance policies cover – which turns out can only be offered if there is a mandate so that healthy people purchase insurance; otherwise, deductibles or copays or premiums are so high, they are unaffordable.

“It’s not true that the Republicans don’t have a plan,” warned Doreen DiLeonardo, who hosts a progressive radio show. Indeed, the plan that was exposed by Politico is essentially the 2015 bill introduced by then Congressman Tom Price, now the Secretary of Health & Human Services.

According to Politico, the Republican plan would rescind the unpopular individual mandate, subsidies based on people’s income, and all of the law’s taxes. It would significantly roll back Medicaid spending and give states money to create high risk pools for some people with pre-existing conditions. Instead of subsidies to help people with low incomes afford health insurance, it would give tax credits based on age rather than income. That means that multi-millionaire Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon-Mobil and now Trump’s Secretary of State would get a bigger tax credit than the 30-year old who works at Starbucks. In any case, tax credits mainly benefit wealthier people. Meanwhile, the other big Republican idea is for Health Savings Accounts, which once again, benefit wealthier people, while those who are barely affording food and rent will be unable to stash away money in untaxed accounts. (See: Exclusive: Leaked GOP Obamacare replacement shrinks subsidies, Medicaid expansion)

What Democrats point to, though, are provisions that would wind up taxing middle class and working class families for the health insurance benefits they get from their employers, while at the same time ending taxes on the wealthiest Americans that funded the Obamacare subsidies.  

“If it were such a good plan, they wouldn’t be hiding it,” DiLeonardo said.

This plan is moving swiftly, she warned.

Assemblyman Charles Lavine is a sponsor of a single-payer health plan in the New York State legislature © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Republicans’ “destructive, nihilistic policy will ruin the ACA,” Assemblyman Charles Lavine, who has sponsored universal health care in the State Assembly, said. “They attempted to ruin it from beginning, based on lies. Each and every one here today, superheroesque, survivors of the ‘massacre at Bowling Green’, we know 20-30 million Americans would lose insurance, we know the tragedy that will flow from that – we will return to days preexisting conditions rob people of access to health care. You’re on your own. Lifetime caps – if someone had serious condition, cut off, no more insurance., – when that happens we all pay one way or another for their treatment. Women will pay more for identical coverage, young adults up to 26 no longer on parents’ coverage, you’re on your own.

“We know the lies being told. Trump said ACA robbed people of their insurance. We know that is just another lie. More than 20 million were able to get insured because of ACA, we now have a record low percentage of uninsured people, 10.9%.

“Trump said some plans were canceled [using this to accuse Obama of lying about ACA]. But that’s because they  were deficient, illusory plans. What Trump and his confederates want to do, is to allow New Yorkers to go into market and buy insurance from other states. NYS is not going to allow that to happen. We will demand (because NY controls insurance product) that any insurance product sold here has to provide minimum requirements, or else people will get ripped off. Those are the kind of policies people lost because of ACA.”

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa lied when he said Obamacare would create death panels that would pull the plug on grandma. But a century ago, the worldwide flu epidemic killed off 50 to 100 million people, and bodies were piled up on street corners in Chicago waiting for the city to pick them up, people were on their own, too.

“That’s not that long ago – a blink in time of human history. We stand together you rebellious Americans to demand the human right of health care, and we stand together (big applause). This is a fight for our families, our communities. We are 36 years since the first days of Reagan Administration into a philosophy that says government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem, your enemy. You and I will fight for our families, communities, and damn well we stand up and fight for our government.”

Recalling that President Theodore Roosevelt, a progressive who busted up trusts and created the first national parks, whose home at Sagamore Hill is just a few miles from where this rally is taking place, Ron Widelec  said, “Once republicans were progressives, put in policies that helped people, now they are wedded to the invisible hand of the American market, not noticing, it is a hand around throats of American people. We will fight back.”

Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) addressing the Long Island Activists health care rally in Huntington: “Mend it don’t end it. Fix the problems.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Newly elected Congressman Tom Suozzi, who has pledged to support universal health care once Democrats take back Congress (and held a packed town hall this past week in which support for ACA was a key issue), said “I believe in health care as a human right. This is a matter of life-and-death for many families now. We have to do a couple of things: protect ACA is the first thing. There is great energy behind that. But we need to improve upon ACA because there are problems – insurance companies, drug companies had too much say in writing ACA and we’re paying the price. Mend it don’t end it. Fix the problems.”

Next:  New Yorkers Mobilize for Single Payer Health Care

______________________

© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at  www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin