Health care is pivotal in 2004

The 2004 elections are a dramatic backdrop to the fight back against the Bush Medicare wrecking ball.

Editorials from across the country, including numerous front-page Wall Street Journal articles, are filled with “fears of failure” for the deeply flawed, anti-retiree Bush Medicare drug plan. Memories of the disastrous “managed care for profit” schemes of the 1990s are being revived along with those of the aptly named 1988 “Catastrophic Health Insurance Bill.” Then, as now, the giant drug and insurance businesses, using powerful Madison Avenue tactics, made the argument that something had to be enacted to save health care or there would be a calamity. Within one year, the 1988 legislation was repealed after the steamroller effect wore off and its reality was “discovered.” The bill’s author, Dan Rostenkowski, a Democratic Party leader in Congress, ran from an outraged bunch of seniors in Chicago. That image could easily repeat itself in the coming months.



Point of attack

With congressional and presidential elections underway, the narrow majority in both the House and Senate that passed the Bush Medicare Bill is now coming up against the growing people’s demand to repeal that legislation. Leading up to that goal requires a few tactical demands.

Bush’s Medicare drug plan specifically barred the federal government from negotiating the price of prescription drugs with manufacturers. There is great support for congressional action to reverse this provision to allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices. This anticipated legislation is the most important point of attack in this battle.

Secondly, the fact that retirees who have Medicare and currently buy Medigap insurance with drug coverage will no longer be allowed to buy that drug coverage is an absolute outrage. To continue their drug coverage, seniors will be forced out of traditional Medicare coverage into HMOs and insurance carrier plans. Under these carriers, coverage will not be nearly as comprehensive as what seniors can buy now.



ARA is key

The key organizational movement to turn back the corporate health “reform” will be labor’s own Alliance for Retired Americans, along with the labor movement, health activists and Medicare rights organizations. AARP, never a source of much hope, will be forever dead. It broke from Prudential Insurance, its originator, in the early 1990s but now it is back under the control of the profit- and greed-driven drug companies and insurance carriers. The ARA must become the home of all labor retirees. It should extend some form of “associate membership” to allow seniors not in unions to join.



National health care

The most overriding goal that must be maintained is the struggle for a universal health care system. Every people’s poll shows an overwhelming understanding that our country must have this system. Translating this nationwide sentiment into a people’s movement is the job of the labor movement, health activists and others.



2004 elections

All candidates running for office in 2004 should be pressured to take a position supporting the repeal of the Bush’s Medicare “reform” bill; and also on the incremental changes listed above. And they should also be pressed to support universal health care coverage for everyone in the USA.

A recent poll by AOL just this past October has 52,251 responders sending a resounding message. The questions was: “Should health care be guaranteed by law for all Americans?” The poll results: Yes, 74 percent; No, 20 percent; Not sure, 5 percent.

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