LaborNet - Internet Board
Global online communication since 1991 for a democratic, independent labor movement
Home | Current Blog | News Archive | Video | Resources | Back Links | About LaborNet

image image

AFL-CIO Rigs Healthcare Survey: Single Payer Not An Option
Source Rich Austin
Date 08/05/08/12:45

AFL-CIO health care survey signals retreat

March 31, 2008
by Rich Austin

THE RECENT results of the AFL-CIO survey on health care signals a retreat from what is truly needed to reform health care in the U.S.

The AFL-CIO's conciliatory tone is a dismally-inadequate reaction to our nation's health care crisis.

The AFL-CIO's health care reform effort is "aimed at achieving reform in 2009 around basic principles that include providing quality health care to all with controlled costs and a public alternative to private insurance." The plan to "reform" health care is unstated, and there is no language guaranteeing "health care to all". Just words.....

A "single-payer" option was not offered as one of the survey's choices!

Having health care as good as what their elected leaders receive was the only real option. And the AFL-CIO is making a big deal out of the fact that 85% of the respondents chose it.

What "elected leaders receive" is cafeteria-style coverage. That means you get to pick the coverage you want. The more you pick the more you pay. Members of Congress are part of the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program. They have a choice of several health plans. Some are HMOs while others are regular insurance preferred provider programs. They select a plan they like and the federal government pays a large portion of the premium. Politicians pay the rest, along with deductibles and co-payments. For more expensive plans with a lot of choices of doctors and hospitals and more services, members of Congress pay more. For the basic plan they pay a smaller premium.

Let us not forget that members of Congress are paid approximately $170,000 per year. That is 425% more than the median incomes for U.S. families. Congress can afford Cadillac coverage. The rest of us cannot. We'd have to "settle" for inferior health insurance.

The AFL-CIO scheme would also provide you with the option of having private health insurance "with controlled costs". Cafeteria-style coverage is a component of "controlled costs". Another possible piece of the "controlled costs" pie could require insurers to spend 85% of the premium dollars they receive to fund benefits. That sounds so-so until another layer of the onion is peeled back. Salaries, bonuses, operating costs, etc. could be included in the 85%. If so, that would mean that insurance companies could retain 15% of every premium dollar they receive.after "expenses" were paid. Imagine that! Imagine being assured of a 15% surplus after paying all your bills.year after year after year. Wouldn't that be great!

Let's, however, give them the benefit of the doubt. Let's say they really had to pay 85% out of every premium dollar for benefits. How would that lower your premiums? How would that prevent insurance companies from interfering in doctor/patient decision-making?

Here we go again.advocating retreat as a strategy.

In 1955 about 35% of America's workforce was organized. Most union members were then in the private sector.

In 1962 public employees won certain collective bargaining rights. Since 1963, the growth in public-sector organizing represents a significant percentage of overall union membership.

Even with the addition of public employees, "cold warrior" business-unionism and red-baiting witch hunts led to a drop in union membership.

In 1981 union density had fallen to just 21%. Following the Reagan administration's mass firing of PATCO air traffic controllers that same year, union density has been in a continual decline. It is more than coincidence that labor's decline accelerated following its retreat when it refused to support the PATCO workers.

In 1993 the Clinton administration - over protests from labor - jammed NAFTA down our throats. By then union membership had fallen to 15%. Labor retreated again.

Under Bush's "Patriot Act" and other anti-union legislation wrapped in the flag, union membership has further declined.

Here we are in 2008, and only 12% of U.S. workers are organized.

There is a pattern. Every time organized labor has retreated, the percentage of American workers belonging to unions has gone down.

This latest retreat from true health care reform offers yet another ominous example of how "going along to get along" unionism fundamentally fails to serve working class America.

What's more, the AFL-CIO's use of the word "reform" leaves many questions unanswered. Its "buy now and we'll fill in the conditions later" approach is outrageous!

There is a piece of legislation that already has all the i's dotted and the t's crossed. It is HR 676, the United States National Health Insurance Act. ("Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Bill"). Under HR 676, there are no "yet to be decided" blank pages. And HR 676 covers everyone for everything, anywhere and at any time. "Everybody in; nobody out".

HR 676 would provide comprehensive coverage for all medically-necessary care. The unemployed, the under-employed, the poor, the near-poor, the middle class, the upper middle class and the filthy rich would all have the same right to access quality care.

State Federations in 2/3 of our 50 states have endorsed HR 676. Over 350 different unions or affiliates have endorsed the bill. So, too, have numerous faith-based and community organizations. 90 Democrats in the House are also co-sponsoring the bill. What part of the call for HR 676 doesn't the leadership of the AFL-CIO understand? Who's calling the shots? Is this another example of a top-down strategy of retreat?

Other ominous possibilities need to be addressed: While on the one hand auto manufacturers - as an example - complain that $1500 is added to the cost of each car to cover employee health benefits, on the other hand they have failed to embrace HR 676. Why? HR 676 would reduce corporate America's contributions for health care by billions of dollars. Why the reluctance?

One possibility is that if we had universal, single-payer health care, corporate America would lose an excuse for closing plants and factories here in the U.S. and moving them offshore. Corporate America would also lose the health care hammer it holds over the heads of working class America. If everyone had publicly-financed health insurance, that otherwise huge problem would be removed from collective bargaining. Unions would be able to devote more energy to securing jurisdiction, making work sites safer, protecting pensions, and representing workers in a host of other ways too.

As a person who has helped negotiate many different labor agreements I have never been part of a committee that has agreed to "cafeteria-style coverage". Cafeteria-coverage is not in the best interests of workers. That is one of several reasons I find the dismally-inadequate AFL-CIO position so appalling. So what if 85% of the people who responded to the survey said they "want health care as good as what their elected leaders receive"? Why weren't they given a single-payer option? If you rig the questions the answers will likewise be rigged. It's like finding breathing better than its alternative.

What is gained by belonging to the AFL-CIO (or any other confederation of unions) if retreat is part of the strategy?

A huge, over-whelming number of union members support HR 676. Who the hell is the Executive Council representing?

Reject the AFL-CIO retreat. Demand HR 676. Demand that the leadership of your unions do the same! Demand that the Executive Council have a full debate on HR 676 versus anything else. Make that debate public! Let's see where everyone stands on supporting [or opposing] single-payer and why!

Publicly financed, privately delivered single-payer health care is the solution! And it's a matter of life and death.

P.S. I have been a proud union member for over 40 years. (My union has endorsed HR 676.) I was brought up understanding that a united, militant labor movement can achieve social and economic justice for working class families. "Going along to get along" will not bring social and economic justice!

[View the list]