Now is time to move on health care, Conyers says

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CHICAGO — Health care activists from around the country gathered here for a strategy meeting Nov. 11-12, energized in the wake of the Democrats winning control of both houses of Congress. The invitation-only group of 60 discussed ways to continue building support for HR 676, legislation establishing a single-payer health care plan, introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). It is also known as the “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act.”

“We are going to take giant steps,” Conyers told the activists. “Since Nov. 7, more is possible, this bill is possible. Now is the time to move.”

Promising the measure “will be the number one issue in my office,” Conyers added, “We are making history.” He noted that national health care was on Dr. Martin Luther King’s agenda when he was assassinated.

John Horgan of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Boston told the group, “Health care is an equality issue, an economic issue.”

Many participants emphasized the links between health care and other issues. Terming health care a human right, Ajamu Sankofa of New York called it the unfinished business of the civil rights movement.

Linking to immigration and education issues were also cited as ways health care activists could unite with other groups to help win passage of HR 676.

National call-in days and postcard campaigns are being planned to gather more congressional support. In the current Congress the legislation has 79 co-sponsors, some of whom have now been elected to the U.S. Senate. The goal is to reach 100 House co-sponsors by the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, April 4, and to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

To that end activists, including those involved with Healthcare-NOW, the convener of the meeting, are also intensifying efforts to gain sponsorship by additional labor organizations as well as city councils and other legislative bodies in order to pressure House members and senators to sign on to the legislation.

So far HR 676 has been endorsed by 208 union organizations, including 50 central labor councils and area labor federations and 15 state AFL-CIOs — Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, North and South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Speaking during the meeting, Dr. Quentin Young, a leader of Physicians for a National Health Plan, noted that advocates of HR 676 are no longer on the “fringe,” but part of the mainstream. Characterizing one of his group’s guiding principles as “everyone in, nobody out,” Young cited a survey showing 84 percent of the people believe the government should provide health care for all.

HR 676 would institute a single-payer health care system in the U.S. by extending a greatly improved Medicare system to every resident. It would cover every person in the U.S. for all necessary medical care, including prescription drugs, hospital, surgical, outpatient services, primary and preventive care, emergency services, dental, mental health, home health, physical therapy, rehabilitation (including substance abuse), vision care, chiropractic and long-term care. HR 676 ends deductibles and co-payments.

The measure would save billions annually by eliminating the high overhead and profits of the private health insurance industry and HMOs.