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by Matt Schlobohm, Public Policy & Poltical Mobilization Director, Maine AFL-CIO, and Charlie Urquhart, Organizer, Maine Labor Group on Health

On Friday October 23, 2009 the delegates at the Maine AFL-CIO’s 27th Biennial Convention unanimously passed a resolution calling on the AFL-CIO to convene, after the current healthcare reform process in Congress concludes, a democratic strategic planning process to develop a long term strategy to win Single Payer national health insurance.

The resolution was enthusiastically supported by the delegates and is rooted in the belief that to win a Medicare for all single payer system the labor movement needs to pursue a different strategy – one that is rooted in building a broadbased social movement, taking a long term approach to this fight, organizing around basic principles and pursuing relentless rank & file education and mobilization.

Maine AFL-CIO Vice President & IBEW 567 Training Director Don Berry laid out the Federation’s position, “Most union leaders are clear that we need a single payer system to solve the healthcare crisis. Yet as a labor movement our strategy has not been clearly, solidly and unambiguously behind single payer. We think it is time for us to commit to and stick with a long term strategy to win Medicare for All. That’s the only thing that’s going to get us out of the healthcare crisis we face at the
bargaining table and in society at large and its high time we put our full force behind it.”

Building on the momentum of the National AFL-CIO’s historic and unanimous passage of Resolution 34 that called for the creation of a Medicare for All, single payer social insurance program, the Maine AFL-CIO saw this resolution as an important step to making that resolution real and pursuing some important next steps.

In this spirit the Maine AFL-CIO unanimously passed the following resolution:


Single Payer Healthcare Resolution
Whereas the National AFL-CIO unanimously passed Resolution 34 strongly endorsing a Medicare for All single payer health care system;

Whereas 39 State AFL-CIO Federations, 134 Central Labor Councils, and 572 different labor organizations have endorsed HR 676;

Whereas as a State Federation we strongly believe that a Medicare for all national health insurance system with single payer financing is the solution that is required to solve the healthcare crisis union members face at the bargaining table and that we face collectively as a society;

Whereas regardless of how the current healthcare reform effort concludes in Congress it will not come close to solving the current healthcare crisis;

Whereas historically, significant structural changes in this country have occurred when progressive forces have built powerful social movements that organize around a long term strategy that involves relentless rank & file education, organizing around basic fundamental principles, having rank & file leaders lead the movement and committing to a long term approach to the issue;

Whereas we strongly believe that to win a single payer national health insurance system the labor movement needs to pursue that kind of strategy and work to build a broad based working class social movement and;

Whereas we believe that had we collectively pursued such a strategy after the last healthcare policy failure in Congress in the mid 1990s – by staking out a strong single payer position, educating our membership as deeply as possible, pushing for political support of single payer legislation and sticking with that approach for the last fifteen years – we would be in a much stronger position today to win meaningful healthcare reform;

Therefore, we call on the National AFL-CIO to convene, after the current healthcare reform process in Congress concludes, a democratic strategic planning process to develop a long term strategy to win Single Payer national health insurance. We think this process should:

1. Start with a Single Payer labor movement summit

2. Involve, among others, Central Labor Councils, State Federations and rank & file single payer union activists in the planning process

3. Do an assessment of how we’ve historically built powerful social movements in this country and put our best thinking forward about what would need to be done today to build a social movement powerful enough to win single payer

4. Include a commitment of resources from the AFL-CIO of no less than the resources that have been devoted to the current health care reform effort

5. Include a commitment from the AFL-CIO to support state’s efforts to pass single payer legislation

Submitted by: the Western Maine Labor Council to the Maine AFL-CIO’s 27th Biennial Convention

Approved unanimously by Maine AFL-CIO Convention delegates: Friday October
23, 2009

Distributed by:
All Unions Committee For Single Payer Health Care–HR 676


Over 125 Healthcare-NOW! members at our 2009 strategy conference voted to oppose the current Congressional version of health insurance reform legislation. While we recognize that many of our allies and supporters may disagree about specific aspects of the pending legislation, we believe that, taken as a whole, it is not worthy of our support. In fact, most of the so-called reforms contained in the bills have already been tried and proven to be a failure at the state level in Massachusetts.

Instead, we should act based on evidence of what works. Medicare, with its lower administrative costs and higher rates of satisfaction, remains the “gold standard” for real healthcare reform.

We anticipated the healthcare debate this year would focus on the true stakeholders: patients and those who care for them. But improved Medicare for All (single-payer) was pushed off the table, by Congress and the private health industry, preventing the American people from learning how access to quality, universal care can be financed without increasing cost to the public.

Pushing single-payer off the table has resulted in deeply flawed legislation by the House and Senate which amounts to a massive bailout of the profit-making health industries that will increase their ability to lobby and influence legislators in the future. At the same time, patients will receive little in the way of protection or improved ability to afford needed healthcare. The legislation is designed to fail and in the meantime, will waste billions of dollars and delay the process of creating effective health reform.

Therefore, Healthcare-NOW! opposes the current health legislation for the following reasons:

1. During the time that it will take for the health insurance legislation to begin (2013 in the House version and 2014 in the Senate version), tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans will die.

2. Millions of people will remain uninsured: 17 million in the House version and 24 million in the Senate version.

3. Medical bankruptcies will continue as families will face out-of-pocket costs up to $10,000 in addition to the cost of premiums and the cost of uncovered services.

4. People who are uninsured will suffer the further indignity of being forced to pay a fine which may be as high as 2.5% of their income (House version).

5. The number of people who are under-insured will increase. There is no guarantee that premiums will be affordable even for those who qualify for federal subsidies. It offers a “public option” so small and weak (and estimated to be more expensive than private insurance) that it is set up to serve as an example of failure.

6. People will continue to be consigned to only receiving the quality of care that they can afford. Instead of a standardized benefit plan that covers all necessary care, people will have to choose from a tiered set of plans. The least expensive plans will cover only 60% of necessary care and patients will be required to pay the balance.

7. The legislation will not control healthcare costs and will increase the waste in healthcare spending. The regulation of insurance companies, which is predicted to fail by industry whistleblowers, will be expensive to enforce. The “exchange” will add another level of bureaucracy which in Massachusetts has added a 4%surcharge to each insurance premium.

8. Private health insurance will be given 30 million more customers, and its stranglehold on the healthcare industry will be even greater. The legislation transfers hundreds of billions of public dollars to private insurance companies. Between $447 and $605 billion in public dollars (depending on the Senate or House version) will be given to the private insurers in the form of subsidies.

9. The bill writes into law protection for the drug manufacturers from having to deal with the collective purchasing power of the American people. Pharmaceutical corporations have already raised prices on brand name prescriptions by 9% this year. Bio-tech firms receive a windfall 12 year patent on new pharmaceuticals.

10. The legislation continues to allow discrimination based on age and immigration status. Older enrollees can be charged up to twice as much as younger enrollees. And enrollees will be required to prove citizenship in order to receive subsidies. Non-citizens will be required to bear the full cost of purchasing insurance.

11. In order to reach a bare majority to pass the bill, the House accepted limits on the reproductive healthcare rights of women beyond current stringent federal restrictions.

We will continue to do everything in our power to support the efforts of Senator Bernie Sanders to submit a substitute single-payer amendment during the Senate debates. This historic opportunity to debate and vote on single-payer from the floor of the Senate will help set the framework for the future. And we will support all efforts to amend existing legislation in ways that would make it easier to achieve state-level single-payer reforms.

Just as we call on Congress to start for scratch, now is the time for all of those who believe that healthcare is a fundamental human right to think about what we need to do to “start from scratch” and build our movement into the future. Many of those who sincerely believed that supporting incremental reforms and the public option was a pathway towards healthcare for all have seen their aspirations betrayed by a failed bargaining strategy embraced by Congressional leaders and the Obama administration. Once this legislative moment is over, we need to join with them in a renewed fight for healthcare for all.

The mission of Healthcare-NOW! is to educate and advocate for a national publicly-funded health system: improved Medicare for all. We will continue to build the Medicare for all movement until we reach the day when all who live in the United States receive the same health security that is a right in other industrialized nations. We welcome all people who support healthcare reform to join with us in this movement. Together, we will succeed.

From Healthcare-NOW!

On Saturday, November 7, 2009, the House passed H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, to much celebration by the Democratic party. Healthcare-NOW!’s view, however, is that the House bill is a gift to the insurance industry at the further expense of the people of this nation.

The bill’s advocates claim it will cover an additional 36 million people, subsidize the cost of insurance for families up to 400% above the poverty level, increase Medicaid coverage to 150% above the poverty level, close the Medicare donut hole by 2019, place a surcharge on individuals making more than $500,000 and couples making more than $1,000,000, will end rescissions and pre-existing conditions.

What the Democrats fail to mention is the bill leaves millions of people uninsured, allows medical bankruptcies to persist, criminalizes and fines the uninsured, increases the number of underinsured, does nothing to contain the sky rocketing costs, blocks women from their reproductive rights, transfers massive public funds to private insurance companies strengthening their control over care, protects pharmaceutical companies’ superprofits at patient expense, fails to reclaim the 31% of waste in our system, expands Medicaid without regard to the state budget crises, discriminates based on immigration status and age, and sets up several levels of care covering less for those without the ability to pay. Those who have coverage will increasingly find care unaffordable and will go without. The whole system will inevitably fail from being fiscally unsustainable.

So is the House bill better than nothing?

“I don’t think so,” writes Marcia Angell, M.D., former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. “It simply throws more money into a dysfunctional and unsustainable system, with only a few improvements at the edges, and it augments the central role of the investor-owned insurance industry. The danger is that as costs continue to rise and coverage becomes less comprehensive, people will conclude that we’ve tried health reform and it didn’t work. But the real problem will be that we didn’t really try it. I would rather see us do nothing now, and have a better chance of trying again later and then doing it right.”

Given that the bill does nothing to contain or reduce rising costs or end the private health insurance industy’s dominance, we hoped that the Progressive Caucus would stand strong. But they did not. All but two of H.R. 676’s cosponsors voted for H.R. 3962 — Rep. Eric Massa [D-NY] and Rep. Kucinich [D-OH].

Rep. Massa stated, “At the highest level, this bill will enshrine in law the monopolistic powers of the private health insurance industry, period. There’s really no other way to look at it.”

Despite telling single-payer advocates that Congressman Weiner’s single-payer amendment could not go to vote because it would open the floodgates for regressive amendments on abortion and immigrant access, the Democratic leadership allowed votes on both. Prior to the vote on H.R. 3962, the Stupak Amendment passed that will prevent women receiving tax subsidies from using their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion and in many cases will prevent low-income women from accessing abortion entirely.

The House of Representatives has dealt the worst blow to women’s fundamental right to self-determination in order to buy a few votes for reform of the profit-driven health insurance industry,” writes Terry O’Neill, President of National Organization for Women. “We must protect the rights we fought for in Roe v. Wade. We cannot and will not support a health care bill that strips millions of women of their existing access to abortion.”

Healthcare-NOW! fought to win a fair and open debate on healthcare reform including the merits of a single-payer system. This has not yet happened, but the advocacy for this system has greatly impacted the debate in meaningful ways.

We need to continue to build the grassroots movement for single-payer, not-for-profit, national healthcare. We look forward to much brain-storming at our upcoming national strategy conference in St. Louis this weekend, and the opportunity to move forward with renewed energy, creative ideas, and resolve.

Meanwhile, we have the opportunity NOW to continue to support the Sanders’ Single-Payer Amendment to be introduced in the U.S. Senate, Congressman Kucinich’s efforts to get the state single-payer amendment back in when the House and Senate bills are reconciled, and the efforts of the Mobilization for Health Care for All.

Thanks for all that you do,
Healthcare-NOW! National Staff and Steering Committee


November 6, 2009

Dear Healthcare-NOW! Supporter:

On the eve of what could have been the first vote on single-payer legislation in our nation’s history, we have just learned that because of last minute developments, the vote and debate on Congressman Weiner’s single-payer amendment will not happen.

Speaker Pelosi received a statement from Rep. Kucinich and Rep. Conyers, the co-authors of HR 676, that they do not think that this is the right time for a vote on national single-payer legislation. They made this statement despite the extensive mobilization in support of this vote across the country. In addition, Speaker Pelosi felt that offering a single-payer amendment would open the floodgates to amendments proposed to limit abortion funds, restrict immigrant access to healthcare, and other regressive legislation.

Let us remember that the potential vote on Congressman Weiner’s single-payer amendment resulted from holding fast to our principles of universal, comprehensive healthcare with no financial barriers. These efforts have brought truth and clarity to a national debate on healthcare reform that has been polluted by the corporate influence over Congress. While the private insurance industry has sent 3,000 lobbyists to Capitol Hill this year, spending 1.4 million dollars a day to shape reform that protects their profits, our calls, faxes, and demonstrations have created the momentum to bring legislation based on HR 676 to the floor of the House and Senate.

The vote for Congressman Weiner’s single-payer amendment would have allowed advocates to have their representatives on record as single-payer supporters.

But this legislative battle is not yet over. Our focus can now turn to two remaining efforts for single-payer in this Congress. Sen. Bernie Sanders will introduce S 703 in coming weeks, and we understand that he is considering editing it to be more like HR 676. We will have the opportunity again to see the first ever vote on single-payer in this Congress. In addition, Rep. Kucinich’s amendment to allow states to more easily implement a single-payer system may be reinserted into the bill during the conference committee between the House and Senate.

All of these efforts are crucial to building the movement for the only solution to our healthcare crisis – single-payer national healthcare.

If this Congress passes inadequate legislation, there will no doubt be emboldened state movements in the coming years. We welcome them. But let us not forget the movement to push our federal legislators to meet the demands of the people, not roll that responsibility onto the states. Healthcare-NOW! and the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care remains committed to a national, single-payer solution to the healthcare crisis. Comprehensive, quality healthcare is a right that should be extended to every U.S. resident.

At this important time, let us not forget how far we have come. Either now or later, a single-payer national healthcare system must come to the table. We will keep building the movement to make that happen.

For healthcare justice,
Physicians for a National Health Program
Progressive Democrats of America
California Nurses Association
Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care
Public Citizen
Healthcare for All Texas
Western PA Coalition for Single Payer
Alliance for Democracy
Single Payer New York


From Healthcare-NOW!

On Thursday, Mobilization for Health Care for All made another urgent demand to get insurance money out of our democracy so that real reform will not be blocked in America. It is unacceptable that 45,000 Americans die every year because of lack of access to health care.

Nine advocates for Medicare for All were arrested in a patients not profits sit-in in Senator Joseph Lieberman’s office. Lieberman, known as the Senator for Aetna – his number 9 largest contributor, has taken $2.6 million in the last decade from the health sector including the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Two advocates remain in jail refusing to cooperate by not providing identification. Kai Newkirk, national coordinator of the Mobilization, is fasting and is in the DC jail, along with John Morhbacher of Connecticut.

Their demand is clear – publicly pledge to stop taking money from the insurance industry. Join their demand by clicking here to sign a petition to Sen. Lieberman.

When Kevin Zeese, Esq. director of ProsperityAgenda.US met with our colleagues in the cell block, Morhbacker, a member of the Army Reserve in Connecticut, described his senator “as an example of the obstructionists who prevent consideration of Medicare for All.”

Newkirk explains that “as long as insurance corporation money is contributed to politicians like Lieberman they will prevent common sense solutions like Medicare for All that meet the moral standard that everyone should have access to health care.” Newkirk explains further why he risked arrest to challenge Lieberman in this video. Please share the video with your friends, family and networks.

Thousands have already signed the petition to strengthen our numbers. Please join them and ask your friends to do the same. And, some media has taken notice, including ABC national news. Let’s continue to build the Mobilization so the media cannot ignore our cry for real health care reform.

On Tuesday Kai and John will return to court. Please donate now to help with bail, legal, and other support. More actions are being planned to continue to build the pressure and more are waiting in line to sit-in, risk arrest and ensure our demands are heard! If you have not already signed up to risk arrest or participate in the Mobilization you can do so here.

What you can do:

1. Sign the petition urging Lieberman to stop taking insurance money. Click here to sign the petition now. Urge everyone you know to sign the petition.

2. Make a donation to support the Mobilization. Donate for bail money and jail support for those arrested in Lieberman’s office.

3. Call Lieberman and tell him to stop taking insurance money. His numbers are: (202) 224-4041and (860) 549-8463.

4. Keep organizing in your area!

Senator Lieberman is keeping good citizens in jail so he can continue to take money from the insurance industry. Imagine that – while the senate is considering insurance legislation, Lieberman insists on taking insurance money. The pay to play corruption of the health care debate is on display in Washington, DC and Lieberman is the poster boy for insurance corruption.

In 2009, Aetna has already spent over $2 million dollars lobbying for health care “reform” that protect their profits ahead of the health of Americans. Elected officials need to know that voters are aware of their corruption for accepting this money and they will pay a political price for their corruption.

Thousands of you have joined in struggle across our nation. Hundreds have risked arrest. Our numbers are growing by the day. Let’s all do our part for Kai and John – let’s build this Mobilization so Americans who want real health care reform cannot be ignored.

Demand Lieberman get our friends out of jail by publicly pledging to no longer accept money from health insurance companies that are the real death panels–killing democracy, killing us.

Please sign the petition, and donate what you can.

Thank you for joining the fight for Health Care for ALL!

From FAIR Activism Update

NYT: ‘FAIR Had a Point’
Paper’s public editor agrees with activists


In response to FAIR’s September 22 action alert, New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt agreed (10/11/09) that the paper’s September 20 article about Medicare for all excluded supporters of a single-payer healthcare system.
FAIR pointed out that the article, written by Katharine Seelye, laid out many arguments against single-payer–it would mean a big tax increase, it would hurt doctors, and so on–without including balancing responses from supporters. Hoyt agreed:

The Times has focused its coverage on proposals that editors and reporters judge to be politically feasible, which means that tort reform, popular with conservatives, and single-payer health coverage, popular with liberals, have received relatively scant attention. Anger boiled over recently, when an article on Medicare-for-all, a version of single-payer, explained all the reasons it was dead, and arguments against it, without going into arguments for it. Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, a liberal media watchdog, urged followers to object, and I received roughly 1,000 messages.

Katharine Seelye, the reporter, said she was trying to explain why Medicare-for-all was not going anywhere and provided links online to arguments for it. “I thought the substance of it had been dealt with elsewhere many times,” she said. But the Times had not seriously explored the issue during the current debate, and I thought FAIR had a point.

Seelye’s defense is alarming; does a reporter at the New York Times really believe that single-payer has been covered “many times” by the paper? The Times, like the rest of the corporate media, has given the issue scant attention (FAIR Media Advisory, 3/6/09). FAIR is encouraged by Hoyt’s acknowledgment that the argument deserves fuller coverage; let’s hope the editors of the Times see it that way, too.

FAIR would like to thank the many people who took the time to write to the paper.


By Rose Ann DeMoro & Michael Moore

Now we know why they’ve stopped calling this health care reform, and started calling it insurance reform. The current bills advancing in Congress look more like rearranging the deck chairs on the insurance Titanic than actually ending our long health care nightmare.

Some laudable elements are in various versions of the bills, especially expanding Medicaid, cutting the private insurance-padding waste of Medicare Advantage, and limiting the ability of the insurance giants to ban and dump people who have been or who ever will be sick.

But, overall, the leading bills and the President’s proposal are, like the dog that didn’t bark, more notable for what is missing.

Here are 13 problems with the current health care bills (partial list):

1. No cost controls on insurance companies. The coming sharp increases in premiums, deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance, etc. will quickly outpace any projected protections from caps on out-of-pocket costs.

2. Insurance companies will continue to be able to use marketing techniques to cherry-pick healthier, less costly enrollees.

3. No restrictions on insurance denials of care that insurers don’t want to pay for. In case you missed it, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee uncovered data on the California Department of Managed Care website recently that found six of the biggest California insurers rejected, on annual average, more than one-fifth of all claims every year since 2002.

4. No challenge to insurance company monopolies, especially in the top 94 metropolitan areas, where one or two companies dominate, severely limiting choice and competition.

5. A massive government bailout for the insurance industry through the combination of the individual mandate requiring everyone not covered to buy insurance, public subsidies which go for buying insurance, no regulation on what insurers can charge, and no restrictions on their ability to decide what claims to pay.

6. No controls on drug prices. The White House deal with Big Pharma, which won bipartisan approval in the Senate Finance Committee, opposes the use of government leverage to negotiate real cost controls on inflated drug prices.

7. No single standard of care. Our multi-tiered system remains with access to care still determined by ability to pay.

8. Tax on comprehensive insurance plans. That will encourage employers to reduce benefits, shift more costs to employees, promote proliferation of bare-bones, high-deductible plans, and lead to more self-rationing of care and medical bankruptcies.

9. Not universal. Some people will remain uncovered, including those exempted, and undocumented workers, denying them treatment, exposing everyone to communicable diseases and inflating health care costs.

10. No definition of covered benefits.

11. No protection for our public safety net. Public hospitals and clinics will continue to be under-funded and a dumping ground for those the private system doesn’t want. Public monies going to hospitals serving low-income communities will be shifted to subsidies for private insurance.

12. Long delay in implementation. Many reforms don’t go into effect until 2013.

13. Nothing changes in basic structure of the system; health care remains a privilege, not a right.

We may be slow learners, but the rest of the industrial world has figured it out: Universal, single-payer or national health care systems. That’s the reason why all those other countries cover everyone, have better patient outcomes, cause no one to declare bankruptcy or lose their homes because of medical bills, and spend less than half per capita on health care than we do.

We could do it too, by reducing the starting age for Medicare from 65 to 0. There’s still time to act.

Call Represenative Engel, Lowey or Hall and urge them to support the vote coming up on the House floor on the Anthony Weiner amendment to protect, expand and improve Medicare for All. Senators have the same opportunity in a vote on Senate bill 703, being offered as a floor amendment by Senator Bernie Sanders.

Democrats must also ensure that whatever bill passes includes a provision enabling states to set up their own single-payer systems. These votes are the true litmus tests of the Democrats’ commitment to guaranteeing health care for all, and finally solving our health care crisis.

19 citizens and health care providers arrested, launching national mobilization for health care for all


September 29, 2009

New York, NY – Citizens and health care providers today staged a sit-in at the offices of Aetna, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies, in New York City (99 Park Ave @ 40th). The action is part of a national mobilization to end health insurance abuses such as the denial of coverage for lifesaving treatments, and win support for the only real public option – Medicare for all, a single payer plan. The action was part of a Mobilization for Health Care for All campaign that includes actions in Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities across the country.

Aetna Sit in

The 19 participants, wearing T-shirts with slogans that read “Medicare for All” and chanting “patients, not profits!” linked arms and sat down in the lobby of the Aetna building, prompting Aetna employees to step around them on their way into their offices, where insurance claim reviewers are busy looking for ways to deny people the lifesaving treatment that they need. A crowd of supporters picketing outside the building held signs that said “Aetna is the real death panel,” and “Single payer now.”

Participants in the action demanded that the insurance company immediately approve all doctor-recommended lifesaving treatments in their files, stating that they would not leave until Aetna approved care. Aetna, however, refused to meet with their representative.

“Insurance companies are denying care to people who need it right and left, but that’s not how it should work. Health care is a right, not a privilege,” said Constancia ‘Dinky’ Romily, 68, just before getting arrested. Romily is a retired nurse and a resident of East Village, New York. “I’m putting myself on the line and getting arrested to end insurance abuse and win health care for all,” she says.

The sit-in is part of the Patients Not Profit campaign of the Mobilization for Health Care for All. The mobilization was launched by the organizations Prosperity Agenda, Health Care NOW!, and the Center for the Working Poor. Today’s action has been organized by the Private Health Insurance Must Go coalition, a local New York organization.

“People are dying because these corporations put profits before patients, and the health care bill currently on the floor of Congress fails to address the real cause of the health care crisis – the insurance companies.” says Katie Robbins, an organizer with Healthcare-Now! “The only solution to our health care crisis is the real public option, Medicare for All, a single payer plan.”

Laurie Wen, 38, a Manhattan resident, is one of the everyday Americans who are fed up with the state of health care in our country, and was arrested today to stand up for the hundreds of Americans who are denied lifesaving care every day, and to call for the only solution for health care for all, Medicare for all. A friend of hers, she says, was recently denied by Aetna for coverage for a bone marrow transfusion to treat cancer for three months, setting his care back for three months.

“We will continue to stage these sit-ins as Congress debates legislation that expands the insurance company stranglehold over our health, our lives, and our government,” says Wen. “We need a better system to end insurance abuse and win health care for all.”

Aetna sit in 3

For more information:
Mobilization for Health Care
Photos from today

Fails to include advocates among ‘diverse’ experts



The New York Times devoted some rare space on September 20 to discussing single-payer (or Medicare-for-all) health reform. The result? A one-sided account of why such a system couldn’t work.

With a headline like “Medicare for All? ‘Crazy,’ ‘Socialized’ and Unlikely,” readers probably had a sense of what the Times had in mind with the piece, which was the latest in a series titled “Prescriptions: Making Sense of the Healthcare Debate.” Reporter Katharine Seelye wrote: “Extending Medicare to all has seemed like a good idea to many–except to those who call it ‘socialized medicine.’ Or crazy.”

The Times seemed to want to express single-payer opposition in more gentle tones, explaining that the idea is, from the start, politically impractical: “Beyond a liberal base in the House, there is little support for expanding Medicare.” And outside of Congress, wise minds seem to agree: “But even experts of diverse ideological views say expanding Medicare would be far more complicated and politically difficult than it might appear.”

That led to the first claim: “For one thing, they say, Medicare reimburses doctors and hospitals at much lower rates than private insurance companies do. So, in general, healthcare providers oppose extending Medicare because they fear being driven out of business.” It’s not clear how serious this fear might be, since most doctors participate in the Medicare system without going bankrupt. Any attempts to reduce the skyrocketing costs of the healthcare system involve cuts of one form or another; most single-payer proposals discuss how to do this without shortchanging physicians. (U.S. doctors make, on average, almost three times the median physician salary in other wealthy industrial countries–Ezra Klein, 4/19/06.)

It’s worth noting that thousands of doctors have voiced support for a single-payer system (see, for example, Physicians for a National Health Program’s letter to Barack Obama), in part because they believe they spend too much on the administrative costs associated with private insurance companies. A survey of physicians published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (4/1/08) found that 59 percent supported government-sponsored national health insurance.

Seelye also wrote that Medicare for all “would almost certainly mean a big tax increase on the middle class,” before noting in parentheses: “Supporters argue that a tax increase would be somewhat neutralized by the elimination of premiums that people pay now to insurance companies.” Actually, single-payer advocates argue that a payroll tax on businesses (many of which currently pay for private insurance for their employees) and a small income tax increase that would likely amount to less than what most citizens currently pay out of pocket could fund a single-payer program. By calling a “big tax increase” a near-certainty and treating the savings on insurance premiums as a claim made by advocates, the Times told readers which side it was on.

Seelye cited Stuart Altman–identified as “a Brandeis economist who specializes in health care and who advised Barack Obama in his presidential campaign,” but not as a director of a managed-care company that offers health insurance plans (–to make a similar point about potential tax increases, and then went to “the other end of the political spectrum” to quote Robert Moffit of the conservative Heritage Foundation: “I don’t see popular support for it beyond liberals…. It’s a philosophical question: Do you want to give the government that kind of power?”

Of course, one might point out that public polling for years has demonstrated that support for single-payer is much broader than merely a liberal sliver of the population (FAIR Action Alert, 3/12/09); a July 2009 tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found 58 percent support for Medicare for all. But a piece detailing the deficiencies of a “crazy” single-payer system is an unlikely venue for that.

Seelye quoted Moffit saying that single-payer “would not save taxpayers money,” while another academic suggested it would “require a tripling in payroll taxes just to pay hospitals alone.” These are stark claims that are at odds with the research of single-payer advocates and experts. Physicians for a National Health Program, for example, calculate the annual savings on administrative paperwork under a single-payer system at more than $350 billion. International surveys of health systems generally show that nations that have adopted public plans spend far less than the U.S., and achieve better results (BMJ, 5/26/07).

So why couldn’t the Times quote sources who would take issue with these claims? From the looks of it, balance wasn’t the point here. The Times collected a litany of criticisms of single-payer healthcare–in effect rebutting claims that the paper rarely allows its advocates to make in the first place.


Ask New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt why the Times ran a piece devoted to undermining the case for single-payer healthcare without allowing advocates to make the case in support of Medicare for all.

New York Times
Clark Hoyt, Public Editor
Phone: 212-556-7652

by Donna Smith for Healthcare-NOW!

Marilyn Clement, national coordinator for Healthcare-NOW, died August 3, 2009. We mourn her loss. She was an organizer for the ages, a friend, a mentor, and as of today, an angel.

Behind she leaves legions of single-payer healthcare activists who may not even know her name or her background or her struggle but who carry with them her passion for a just world where every human life is valued and protected and honored no matter his or her station in life, gender, color of skin, or name recognition potential. In a world gone mad for celebrity and status, Marilyn was a woman of peace and compassion for all.

I first met Marilyn when SiCKO premiered in New York City. Then just weeks later when I introduced the film to audiences at the Atlanta Social Forum, it was Marilyn who took me across town to a hotel room where Laura Flanders had set up a radio studio to broadcast all the action at the event. Marilyn brought me to be on the radio show with her — and with Atlanta’s Dr. Henry Kahn. Diane Shamis of Progressive Democrats of America will recall that interview too.

Thunder and lightning raged outside as our interview aired. And Marilyn had a terrible blister on her leg from the heat and her brace working in concert to create an open sore that had to have been terribly painful. We sat on a bench out in the hallway as she positioned a band-aid to cushion her skin. Then we walked together, and she asked me about my own skills and what I wanted to do with my new found, though surely fleeting fame. I told her I wanted to write.

Within days, she emailed me and encouraged me to report on my travels — and the people I met along the way — and on my own vision for healthcare reform. She took those early essays and submitted them for me to the “Black Commentator,” and I wondered why she thought anyone would read them or care. She posted the pieces on the Healthcare-NOW website, and she stayed in touch with me — praising me, always praising me.

She stood by me when I testified before Congress, and encouraged the very first healthcare justice vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

We would later laugh together about so many things associated with being activists and with being strapped for cash. The bus tour through 12 states and 17 Congressional districts that was both fraught with huge challenges but also blessed with dynamic energy was a triumph that still reverberates through this movement with activists who before that road show had never heard of single payer and who now breathe life into their own community efforts and the national drive.

Some of the events we attended brought in hundreds of people, some only a dozen. But Marilyn made every event seem a success and allowed no person to lord over another for any reason. With a firm and just passion for her work, she recognized every contribution for its potential.

Over the past several months, Marilyn has been fighting multiple myeloma. As her illness slowly at first and then more insistently later pulled her energies away from the work she so loved, Marilyn stood back and trusted those in whom she now left the details of the political struggle. No matter how deeply all of us may have wanted her to weigh in and take back the reins at various points in our discourse, she never did. She offered only love and support.

About 10 days ago, I traveled to New York to see her one last time. Though issues at home and in DC were pressing, I also knew the time was drawing closer when Marilyn would die and any words I had left to say to her would go forever unsaid — at least in this place.

She was weak. She was tired. But her spirit was evident. I shared with her some of the recent activities surrounding single-payer. When I told her about some of the single-payer victories, she pumped her fist once in the air. I shared with her a piece of taffy that came from a basket Michael Moore sent along — Marilyn’s son split the piece in half for us. We laughed a bit. She told her son that I was a wonderful writer. I choked. Before I could cry in front of her, she dozed off and did not know from me how her comment describing me was the most amazing gift anyone could ever give me — to say I am a good writer is to love me and honor me at a very deep place.

Yet, she knew exactly what would honor me. That’s what Marilyn’s life was all about.

I tried to ask her what she thought we should be doing in this movement going forward. She waved me off. She said, “We don’t need to talk about all of that now. You all know what to do.” In that moment I knew she was at peace with the hand-off. Each of us who have been touched by her have already been handed our marching orders in the most loving and honorable way.

As I stood to leave, I told her I loved her. She told me she loved me. We smiled at each other. And she drifted off to sleep. I knew the end of this life was not long off for her, and I knew she was just fine with that.

For the rest of the afternoon, Katie Robbins and I worked on rally plans in the Healthcare-NOW offices. And that was, of course, exactly what Marilyn knew would be progressing.

This morning, she died. And the rest of today, her army of activists turned their attention to the task at hand — honoring one another with fierceness of spirit in the fight for healthcare justice for all. May she rest in the same peace that she shared so broadly with us all on this earth.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.