Labor unions hold health care roundtable and say real reform is needed
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06/25/09 Seán Kinane
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Labor leaders discuss public health care options.


photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

As Congress considers reforming the nation’s health care system, it’s difficult to get a sense of what that transformation might look like. President Barack Obama has expressed interest in a “public option,” where a government-funded program can compete with private insurers. Many conservatives oppose any public option in favor of only private health insurance companies, while some progressives say the best option is single-payer universal health care.

During a roundtable discussion in Tampa today, local labor unions stressed the need for health care that’s effective and affordable.

Before he was diagnosed with fibromyalgia syndrome, Lakeland resident Robert Bowers had to declare bankruptcy because of medical bills associated with multiple kidney stones. People who have little or no income, like he and his wife, have difficulty accessing medical care. Bowers choked back tears when describing what his life would have been like with access to health care without regard to income. “If we had gotten the care we deserved, we would have children. I would probably be able to work full time. But people don’t listen – they’ve got this idea – ‘Oh, you’re poor, you’re just lazy or you’re just going to get high.’”

Despite spending more per capita on health care than any other country, the United States is not among the top countries when it comes to positive health outcomes. It is the only industrialized country without a national health care program. Bowers says the only solution is a program in which the government, not patients, pays the medical bills. With a single-payer program like that, Bowers says he could avoid situations where he gets second-class service at the doctor.

Many Americans are unhappy with health care in the United States, according to a survey conducted in April and May by the AFL-CIO and their affiliate Working America. More than 23,000 people responded to the 2009 Health Care for America Survey. Aaron Carmella is a regional coordinator with the Florida AFL-CIO. “People were dissatisfied. I believe 94% in it are not happy with the current system and favor health care reform.”

On Wednesday, The Commonwealth Fund released a report, “Fork in the Road: Alternative Paths to a High Performance U.S. Health System.” It compared three possible reforms, one involving private insurance only, and the other two including a public option with expanded access to Medicare. It concluded that the greatest cost savings, three trillion dollars over ten years, would come from “a public health plan paying providers at Medicare rates, offered alongside private plans.” The cost savings would result from a combination of reduced administrative costs associated with private insurance, “greater efficiencies in care delivery and slower growth in health care spending.” The Florida AFL-CIO’s Aaron Carmella says that 48 state AFL-CIO federations, including Florida, have endorsed a Medicare-for-all bill in Congress, HR 676.

Representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S. Representative Kathy Castor attended Thursday’s roundtable, but neither elected official responded to WMNF’s question of whether they would accept health care “reform” that did not include a public option.

Digna Alvarez, is regional director for Senator Nelson, who serves on the Finance Committee which is helping draft the health care reform legislation.

In a written statement her office said, “Congresswoman Castor supports a public option. She strongly believes that private insurance companies need to be reigned in and need the competition so that everyday people can truly afford meaningful health insurance.”

Susan Rogers, an organizer with SEIU Healthcare, suggests that one way to make the country healthier would be to reinvest in the health care workforce to improve nurse-patient ratios. The former emergency room nurse says that criticism of a public option because of the cost is “nonsense.”

On Wednesday, a Senate Commerce Committee report alleged that health insurance companies unfairly pushed billions of dollars in medical bills on to their customers that the companies should have paid themselves. Insurance companies have systematically under paid for out-of-network care, according to the report.

The number of uninsured people continues to be a problem in the U.S. In Florida, lack of insurance is particularly daunting for children, according to Jodi Ray project director for Florida Covering Kids and Families at the Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies.

During a televised town hall-style meeting on health care reform Wednesday night, President Barack Obama said he would not fully tax the employer-provided health insurance benefits of all Americans. But he said he could be persuaded to tax the most expensive of those benefits if it helps health care reform pass Congress.

2009 Health Care for America Survey

Florida AFL-CIO

The Commonwealth Fund

Fork in the Road: Alternative Paths to a High Performance U.S. Health System

Physicians for a National Health Program

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