Real Health Care Reform or Bust

Image: Health Care Can't WaitThe health care reform legislation approved yesterday by the Senate Finance Committee is “deeply flawed” and unless “substantial” improvements are made in the bill that makes it to the Senate floor, the AFL-CIO and some two dozen unions will oppose it.

In full-page ads in the Washington Post, Politico and other dailies, union leaders say that comprehensive health care reform that brings down costs, improves quality and guarantees coverage for all “is closer than ever.”

But we aren’t there yet. The Senate Finance Committee bill is deeply flawed.

Not only does the Finance Committee’s bill tax workers’ health care benefits, it does not include a public health insurance option. This summer, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) approved health care reform legislation that includes a public option and does not tax workers’ health care benefits. Senate negotiators are now trying to merge the two bills into a finished product for a vote by the full Senate.

The ad spells out the unions’ “bottom line” for a final health care reform bill.

  • A public health plan is essential for reform.
  • Health care reform has to ease cost burden on individuals and families, not worsen it.
  • Employers have to pay a fair share of costs.
  • Health care can’t be paid for by a new tax on middle-class benefits.

As the ad points out, a public option would lower premiums for everyone, reduce the cost of health care reform by $100 billion and set up competition

to break the stranglehold of a handful of big insurance companies that have made 96 percent of metropolitan markets uncompetitive.

Health care premiums have climbed by 300 percent and insurance company profits have soared by 1,000 percent over the past decade. The Finance Committee bill requires individuals to obtain coverage, while employers face few incentives to provide coverage.

Penalties on individuals who cannot obtain coverage, should not be more than what employers are required to pay.

Workers and employers who do provide health coverage to their employees also are footing the bill for uninsured workers whose employers do not offer health coverage, says the ad. More than $1,000 of each family premium goes to cover the cost of the uninsured.

The only fair way to cover the cost for all is to include an employer responsibility provision that requires all employers to provide health coverage or contribute a truly meaningful sum to help pay for subsidies.

Starting in 2013, the Finance Committee bill would levy a 40 percent excise tax on what could be as many of 40 percent of all heath care plans, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. That tax, says the ad, would most likely “hit plans with people who are older or sicker or those who work for small employers.”

A new tax on the middle class is unacceptable.

The ad warns lawmakers:

Unless the bill that goes to the floor of the U.S. Senate makes substantial progress to address the concerns of working men and women, we will oppose it.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.

This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on October 14, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.