Labor Party launches Just Health Care plan
Jenny Brown
February 1999

"Do you want health care with no deductibles, no co-pays, all necessary medical care, your choice of doctors, universal coverage no matter what your age or job?" asked the Labor Party at a rally in Pittsburgh in November. "Do you want better health, longer life span, fewer infant deaths, and zero paperwork ever? Do you want all this at half the cost of the current system? Then you want Just Health Care."

Bob Kingsley of the United Electrical workers union (UE) told the crowd, "Our health care system has been stricken by a disease called corporate greed. A handful of billionaires and a basketful of bureaucrats now dictate the limits and costs of the health care received by the rest of us." He pointed out that 43 million Americans have no health insurance and that 26 cents of every health care dollar goes to profits and overhead, not patient care. "America is sick when the best the Republicans and Democrats can do is put bandaids on this crisis because they fear the wrath of the health care companies that pad their campaign coffers."

Kingsley stated: "Brothers and sisters, we come here today with more than a list of symptoms and a litany of woes, we come with a message. This Labor Party believes that health care is a basic human right...we have a prescription for what ails the American system. The cure is Just Health Care, a simple, single national health plan that covers everyone. A plan like Canada's. A plan that reduces waste, reduces administrative cost, and takes the insecurity out of our families health insurance. A plan that takes the profits out and puts the care back into health care."

The rally was part of the second national convention of the Labor Party, which was founded in 1996 by trade unionists, with the support of several national unions, to create a political party that stands up for the needs of working people. Just Health Care is one of several organizing campaigns they launched at the Pittsburgh convention.

Kit Costello, co-chair of the Labor Party and president of the California Nurses Association, said the health care system in California is in "an advanced state of meltdown."

"We're closing hospitals, we're closing emergency rooms, and this is a state where people set themselves on fire over the issue of HMOs," referring to a man who unfurled a banner stating "HMOs are just in it for the money" on a Los Angeles freeway overpass last year and then killed himself. "The good news is that insurance companies aren't winning any popularity contests. They're spending millions on feelgood ads ... trying to create trust where none exists. Everyone you and I talk to knows a person who's had health care bills they can't pay, who have had to fight for health care they deserve, or who have suffered
personally because care has been refused or denied."

Costello told the story of a teacher who needed therapy for her advanced-stage breast cancer. "They had a penny drive at her school, not because she didn't have insurance, but because the recommended treatment was denied. I've been to other countries, I've been to Canada and Australia, and when I tell these stories, people can hardly believe it! We need to raise expectations. This can't go on. We're here in Pittsburgh to launch a campaign for what every American wants--cradle to grave health security and an end to profit mongering in health care."

Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions president Kathleen Connors told the rally about the system they have in Canada. She held up her Canadian health care card and said, "This is the most important card I carry wherever I go. It's got a unique identifier number that says that this is my access to the Canadian health care system, a system that has no deductibles, no co-pays, that provides all aspects of medically necessary services from physicians and in our hospitals. I don't have to fill out any insurance forms, I don't have to figure out which company will cover which piece. And ... I have my choice of doctors and there's an awful lot of Americans that have no choice of physicians."

Connors said that the Canadian system is based on five simple principles. "It is a universal system. It doesn't matter who you are. You could be a homeless person on the street or a bank president, and you are entitled to the same level of health care benefits.

"The system is accessible. Services have to be provided where you are. You might have to travel for a really specialized service, but there's payment for that, too." She said the system is comprehensive, covering every Canadian for all needed care, and that it's portable, so anywhere she goes in Canada she is covered. "Most importantly, our system is based on a public, not-for-profit administration, where people are put before profit. That's people first."

Also speaking at the rally was Dr. Sidney Wolfe, founder and director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. Wolfe has spent over 30 years fighting for health care that covers everyone. He stated, "In no other developed country in the world do we have that many uninsured or underinsured and in no other country in the world is there anything but a footnote of for profit insurance and for-profit hospitals" Wolfe said. "There's a definite connection between them because as long as we allow for-profit insurance companies, HMO's and hospitals, we're going to guarantee that we don't have just health care but that we have unjust health care."

Wolfe said that some have benefited from the current system. "The system has created hundreds of new millionaires, executives of HMOs, or stockholders who are making money in direct proportion to how much care the HMOs don't give out. This is an impossible kind of tug," Wolfe said, "The tug between justice and social responsibility and a profit-driven system is best illustrated by a quote from a Nobel-prize winning economist, Milton Friedman: 'Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their shareholders as possible.' So this is not really compatible with the social responsibility that people in the health care system should have for providing just health care.

"So we have a profit-driven system, for-profit hospitals, for-profit HMO's, for-profit nursing homes, that thrives in direct proportion to how much care is denied, how many people are dumped, how many people are discouraged from going here or there because they can't work their way through the HMO maze of phone calls; how many people are deceived into going into HMOs and then told, 'Well, we can't provide drugs to you, it costs too much.'

"So this profit-driven system is completely at odds with providing just health care ... to provide cosmetic legislation like a patient bill of rights ... it's just not going to work ... there's no way this cosmetic legislation can displace the fundamental conflict between the duty that these for-profit entities have to their stockholders and the need for just health care."

For more information on Just Health Care, write to the Labor Party at P.O. Box 53177, Washington, DC 20009. (202) 234-5190. Memberships are $20. Or come by the Health Care for All office (373-4841) in the back of the Civic Media Center at 1021 W. University Ave.

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