Health care action week to dramatize growing crisis

Jobs with Justice (JwJ), the national coalition of labor, community, student and faith-based groups, has declared Oct. 3-10 “Health Care Action Week: Affordable Health Care for All.” JwJ urges actions during that week that could include rallies and marches, educational forums, workplace “sticker days,” outreach to not-yet-union workers, and town hall style forums to dramatize the crisis in the U.S. health care system and to offer pro-worker solutions for addressing it.

The week of action will complement efforts by labor unions and other organizations to conduct their membership education and get-out-the-vote efforts.

JwJ’s call to action on the health care issue could not be timelier. The group points to developments like these, all of which have occurred during President Bush’s watch:

• The Census Bureau reports that the number of persons without health insurance in the U.S. increased from 43.6 million to 45 million since 2002, with working families the hardest hit.

• About 9 million people have lost employer-sponsored health insurance coverage since 2001.

• Rather than deal with rising costs, employers are shifting health care costs to workers with higher premiums, co-pays and deductibles, and huge cuts in benefits. They are dropping retiree plans, so millions more are now underinsured.

• The United States spends $1.8 trillion on health care — more than twice the per capita average of other developed nations — yet it is behind most of the developed world on major health indicators such as infant mortality and life expectancy.

• Prescription drug costs consumed 1.8 percent of personal income in 2002, up by 50 percent in just four years. Yet one in four Americans lacks drug coverage. The Bush administration’s Medicare prescription drug plan will cover just 25 percent of the average senior’s expenses after 2006, while giving away billions to drug makers, HMOs, and employers.

• Instead of strengthening the largest and most successful public health insurance program — Medicare — the Bush administration’s fraudulent “reforms” promote Health Savings Accounts and high deductible insurance plans to make patients pay more.

Participating unions in Health Care Action Week include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Association of Flight Attendants; Communications Workers of America; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; International Longshore & Warehouse Union; National Education Association; Paper, Allied Industrial, Chemical and Energy Union – PACE; Service Employees International Union; United Electrical Workers; United Food & Commercial Workers; and United Steelworkers of America.

As JwJ observes in its call to action, the challenge now is to knit together all those affected by the deteriorating health care situation to build a movement strong enough to take on the special interests that stand in the way of reform.

With only five weeks left before the national election, Nov. 2, there is no time to lose in convincing voters how devastating another Bush presidency and GOP-controlled Congress will be to the health and welfare of working people.

While there are definitely limitations to John Kerry’s health care plan, the defeat of George W. Bush would open up political space for labor and people’s advocates to make genuine advances in providing health care for all. Progressive and warriors for social justice showed during the Clinton years that progress is possible when the movement is united and the leadership of the country is beholden to the people’s movements for their election.

Nothing is written in stone. Defeating the Republicans will only be the first step. But, with four more years of unbridled privatization and profit schemes perpetrated by the likes of Senate Majority Leader (and profiteer) Bill Frist, the clock will be turned back even further on health care than it already has been. We must not let that happen.

It makes a big difference who has control over the federal budget, the executive agencies and federal field work, for example, federal community health centers.

Remember, too, to apply pressure on candidates for the House and Senate. Dumping the Bush gang from the White House, as crucial as that is, must be accompanied by dumping these same anti-people officials from Congress.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.