Friday, October 30, 2009

Struggle for Health Rights

Public Option: Worth Fighting For;
The House Version Puts One Foot In The Door; Don't Abandon The Struggle

by Phil E. Benjamin

The House has released its side of the national health care legislation. It is not HR3200; its HR 3962 and there are many changes, some of them responding to the peoples' health movement. Now we await the other side of the aisle, the Senate version to be announced. The balance of forces is all actively at play. The legislation that emerges from the House/Senate Conference committee will not doubt be also different. That is where the power of the peoples' health movement will be felt.

Discouraged Yes: Giving Up No

The Wall Street/health insurance, drug and medical device companies distortion of the health care legislative debate in Congress has reached its crucial point. After extending their hands in friendship to the Democratic Party leadership, they quickly reverted back to the deceitful, lying ways.

What was once seen as a glorious effort to bring heath care services to everyone in our country, at little or very minimum out of pocket [and taxing] costs, has been reduced to a scrambling for the crumbs that are left to fight over. It has driven many activists to the sidelines of the struggle. Too many have given up any hope for a decent national health program. Skepticism and cynicism is clouding the goal that we must continue to struggle for. The first goal of the monopolies effort is to discourage and defeat those in its opposition. Unfortunately, right now, they are being too successful in that strategic goal.

This isn't first time that the peoples' movement has had to piece together the crumbs to make a nice cupcake and possibly a cake that makes sense and benefits all of us. Keeping our own goals ahead of us is crucial to the immediate struggle. It will also steel us for the upcoming struggles in the health and jobs arena as well as for our anti-war, anti-nuclear, anti-climate change and working class agenda. The rallying cry of past struggles remains true today, "Dare to Struggle; Dare to Win."

True Public Option

Make no mistake about it. The most advanced 'Public Option" is taking place every minute of every day, starting in 1946, in the United Kingdom. That's right, it is a National Health Service. There the hospitals are all public and the physicians and nurses are government employees. Being a federal and state worker in the UK is job of dignity and respect. With some variations, this same "Public Option" is alive and well in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, all of Scandinavian countries and other countries. This is the mortal fear of Wall Street and international capital. But, here in the United States a national health service/public option program is alive and very well in Veterans Hospitals. This program is protected by U.S. veterans against the attacks of the profiteers; and, believe it, these profit thirsty corporations try everyday to privatize the VA hospitals. Congresswoman Barbara Lee's HR 3000, the Josephine Butler National Health Service Act is a live piece of legislation that can be considered at a latter date.

The next level of 'Public Option" is the John Conyers HR 676 "Single Payer" legislation. In this "Public Option" the financing of a national health bill that would cover everyone in the country would be fully public. The hospitals would remain in the current state of mostly non-profit and public status. The "global budgeting" proposal within this bill would bring the private hospitals into a more coherent, rational system of care. And, there would be strong incentives for physicians to work in this "Public Option." This

HR 676 closely mirrors the current Medicare program and is sometimes referred to as a "Medical For All" proposal. This is a "Public Option" that would cover everyone and be the cheapest national health care program. The Congressional Budget Office [CBO] was not asked to "score" HR 676 for good reason. The Democrats would not allow the bill to be seriously considered, for it knew, it would receive a very low-cost score. After all, Single Payer would have eliminated the insurance industry as a major player. That is where much of the high cost lies in the House and Senate bills.

The leadership of the Democratic Party determined that it could not or would not eliminate the insurance industry from running our national health program. The term used was it would be too "disruptive" to the insurance industry to do that. Left out of the reasoning are the 50 million who have no health insurance and 60 million who have poor coverage will continue to have their lives disrupted every minutes of every day.

"Public Program" Within a Private System

When Senator Harry Reid, the head the US Senate, bowed to the demands by the peoples' health movement and by the White House, and installed a "Public Option" within the US Senate Finance Committee proposal, it was a major victory. But, this victory is just a foot in the door. To make sure the door doesn't smash our collective feet, the peoples' health movement must keep up the struggle.

Right now, it is hard to determine just what this "Public Option" would function along side the current unbridled private, for-profit health insurance companies. And, probably even when a bill is passed and signed by President Obama, there will be many rules and regulations that will need to be written to put the bill into action. That will become another arena of struggle.

Clearly, the best "Public Option" that would really serve the people would be a "Public Option" that mirrors Medicare. This option would be the least costly given its removal of profiting making from system. This is still entirely possible and it is that goal that the peoples' health movement is mobilizing around.

The House/Senate Conference committee must be forced to consider that alternative even if it just for the money saving aspects.

Support and Opposition

This is a crucial time. The forces of reaction are gathering against any form of "Public Option." Their methods are the usual feeding confusion and a significant number of outright lies. The full barrage of the Medical Industrial Complex has been mobilized. And, be sure, that Wall Street financiers and other industries' Boards of Directors where corporate executives of health insurance companies jointly sit and conspire…they are also mobilized. The collusion between all sections of capital is at play. There is no question that they have the money and the power. And, it is an open fact that their millions of dollars are contributed to mostly Republican politicians but the sad fact is that they give millions to Democratic Party politicians as well. Former leaders of WEllPoint Insurance Company actually wrote the U.S. Senate Bill for its Chair Max Baucus. No one denied that fact. Baucus was actually proud of his corporate relations. He has no shame.

The October 28th, 2009 lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal, "the WEllPoint Revelation" shows the strategy of Wall Street. Here they cite the same corrupt, self-serving studies released earlier, that is, the high cost of the Senate Finance Committee Health Proposal. WellPoint's own people wrote that bill for Baucus and probably ghost wrote the editorial. Get the picture?

WellPoint's former employees, who knows they could still be on their payroll, did the research and wrote the legislation for Senator Max Baucus, legislation that they now condemn as being too costly. You can be sure that the leadership of the Republican Party's 2010 Congressional Strategy program will soon weigh in with their condemnation. These are the same forces that Baucus courted and used as his excuse to devise his legislation, legislation that makes the insurance carriers in charge. With these carriers in charge, the price tag must be exorbitant.

Is Baucus party to the cynical policymaking, who knows? One thing for sure, the Industry is in charge.

One key politician is the U.S. Senator from Connecticut Joseph Lieberman. When asked did his opposition to any "Public Option" have to do with the power of the insurance industry in his state, he denied it. The second editorial in the Oct. 28th WSJ is, "Lieberman Steps Up." He is opposed to any form of national health that isn't controlled by the insurance carriers. His opposition for any "Public Option" flows from that. Yes, WSJ editors love him. The facts speak for themselves. Lieberman is: Pro-War; Pro Industry; and, anti worker……He has no shame. The voters of Connecticut should do recall of his election.

Surely, HR 3962's size will be a main feature of the attack from the right wing. It is one foot tall; 1,990 pages and 400,000 words. And, it weighs 20 lbs. This is all according to the NY Daily News, which often copies Republican Party diatribes from their fax machine.

But, given all of that corporate and right wing political power and their millions, the power of the peoples' health movement got the insertion of a "Public Option."

Senator Lamar Anderson of Tennessee said in his opposition to the "State 'Public Option' Opt Out" provision, as being considered in the its first and current Senate version, that that was the same kind of "opt out" in the 1965 Medicaid national bill. And, that only one state opted out, Arizona.

Not only did Arizona not join Medicaid until 1983, but only those folks whose income was less than 1/3 of the poverty level were eligible at that time. And recent events, Arizona had an initiative in 2008 to keep Arizona out of any federal health care plan and legislation trying to do the same in 2009, both of which failed. Under the Senate proposals being considered, individual states can "Opt Out" of the federal program.

Anderson's analysis and cynical comments, if true, would be good news for those opposed to the "State 'Public Option' Opt Out" and support a national health bill with a full "Public Option." But if that "State 'Public Option' Opt Out" stays in, close attention must be made to the language of "Opt Out" so that it cannot be used to undermine the full intent of universal access to health care services.

"Single Payer" advocates who support a "Single Payer" option for States under any national legislation should beware to not getting teamed up with the "State 'Public Option' Opt Out" proposals.

That is where the struggle will take place over the next days and weeks.

Financing the Bill

But, while we are struggling to get the best 'Public Option" we must make sure that the working class [relabeled the middle class] doesn't pay for it or any aspect of the national health legislation. The combined House bills make it clear that there must not be any taxing of health benefits to pay for the legislation. There must be a wealth tax. That wealth tax started at people making over $250,000 for single persons; $350,000 for a family of 4, but has been elevated by Speaker of House, Nancy Pelosi. The new bottom is $500 million for a single person and $1 million a year for a family of 4. We must demand that the level of tax go back to where it started at the $250,000 level. The House has chose, rightly so, to tax the wealthy and to NOT tax health benefits of working class people. The Senate Democrats clings to the taxing of union health benefits.

Procedural Maneuvering

To be sure the leaders of the U.S. Senate and to a less extent the House leadership must overcome many procedural issues to get a bill that will acceptable to the peoples' health movement. The mass media is filled with filibuster and anti-filibuster noise plus other confusing rhetoric. All of these voting issues will fade into the back if the movement is large enough and loud enough. That is the job ahead.

Immigrant and Women's Rights Coverages

Two major peoples' rights issues remain before the Congress and White House.

The first one is making sure that the United States does the same as is done in other industrial and another countries in terms of human rights. That is making sure that everyone residing in the country will receive his or her full health rights.

This means that the health bill must not be limited to legal citizens and legal immigrants. That is not enough.

The nation's religious organization and leaders: Christian, Jewish and Moslem clerics should be sounding the alarm for the rights of every man, woman and child to health services. Immigrants, regardless of their status, work hard at jobs where they often pay the same taxes well all pay. That's right. They pay taxes that go for social security, Medicaid and Medicare and sundry of other purposes. But, they are not able to use that same tax revenues like the rest of us when the need and time occurs.

Public health professionals must raise a similar cry. They should raise the practical public health danger of infections and diseases when everyone is not given the basics of public health vaccines, immunizations and primary health are services. The H1N1 threat is an obvious reason for total inclusion. It would do better than any national wide vaccine program.

The complete application of the Roe V. Wade national law should be applied. The law should protect women's' right to all reproductive services. All groups, not just woman's groups must fight for full health services relating to reproductive services. The House version only allows for these rights in the case of rape, incest and a direct threat to a woman's life. This is barbaric thinking. These decisions belong to the physician and woman; third parties should not be involved, at all.

Reproductive planning should all be considered in the same package. For example, vasectomies: Planned Parenthood reports: "Private health insurance policies may pay some or most of the cost. In nearly all states, Medicaid covers vasectomy." The question is: why are women discriminated against?

Local Action/National Impact

What has been clear over the past weeks and months, the actions of tens of thousands of angry people are being heard in Washington, D.C. That local rage must be galvanized under clear and understandable themes such as: "Public Option: Medicare." That is becoming a rallying cry that makes sense.

For example in Arizona: Actions continue around the country. October 29, was "Trick or Treat Day" at insurance companies. Activists in Phoenix are going to demonstrate at United Health Care, Senator Kyl's office, and one of Senator McCain's residences. They are all within walking distance of each other in Phoenix's "Financial" district. Good visual.

On the day that the House version was released more activists were arrested protesting the role of insurance carriers. Local based, national actions will surely increase over the next period of time. The Senate version will, I am sure, get its share of opinion. Get in touch with your local health care activists and join in.

Send in your local's actions!!