UNION NEWS SERVICE
Mark Gruenberg, Editor
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February 16, 2004
SINGLE-PAYER HEALTH CARE
ADVOCATE URGES UNIONS TO JOIN
By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI)–A longtime advocate of single-payer government-run national health care is urging unions to dump the present employer-run health care system and join his campaign.
But whether Quentin M. Young, an internist from Chicago and national coordinator of the Physicians for a National Health Program will succeed is open to question.
As he admitted in a February talk at the AFL-CIO, unions helped construct the present health care system “and labor has a stake in it.” But Young argued that system is broken, with 44 million people lacking health insurance and millions more underinsured.
“Labor has been the key” in the success or failure of all health care proposals, Young said. “We haven’t had” government-run national health care in the U.S. “and labor has been a reason we have the employer-based system.
“I need more commitment from labor because it won’t happen without you,” Young conceded.
Unions are split on how to deal with the health care system. For example, the United Food and Commercial Workers is now battling to preserve health insurance coverage for 70,000-locked out Southern California grocery workers.
But the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers (PACE) is dedicated to pushing single-payer national health insurance, President Boyd Young says.
And last year, Steel Workers Legislative Director Bill Klinefelter pointed out, USWA got a 65 percent federal health care tax credit for steel workers who lost their jobs due to dumped foreign imports.
“What is being learned, however, is that 65 percent is not enough. It still costs the (jobless) workers $1,000 per month. They’re finding the safety net isn’t there,” Klinefelter said.
Health care is heating up on the campaign trail, too. And Young said the political climate must change to force Congress and the White House to adopt government-run Canadian-style national health care. Though Young did not say so, current GOP White House occupant George W. Bush adamantly opposes it.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, an M.D., and a Democratic presidential hopeful, is lukewarm to single-payer health care, Young said. “He told the Vermont legislature when he was governor that he would veto it. Now he says, ‘I don’t think it’s practical, but if it reached my desk, I would sign it.'”
Other Democratic hopefuls, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the current primary leader, also have comprehensive health care plans. One, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is an outspoken backer of single-payer national health care, which PNHP pushes. Kucinich has co-sponsored legislation on the issue and advocates abolition of the health insurance industry.
Young spoke five days before PNHP released a survey of 904 physicians, randomly sampled by Harvard Medical School, which showed 64 percent favored national health insurance. The study, in the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed 10 percent backed managed care and 26 percent support the present system.
And 70.3 percent of the doctors “rejected allowing the insurance industry to continue playing a major role in the delivery of medical care,” it said.
Young also argued that the spiraling cost of U.S. health care–$5,800 per person per year, three times as costly as the next-most-expensive nations–and its increasing unavailability are reasons to switch to a national single-payer system.
Such a system, he said, would reduce overhead by eliminating the insurance bureaucracy, freeing more money to treat people.
“We have the resources” for health care, Young noted, adding that government–through Medicare, tax benefits, the National Institutes of Health and grants–already pays for 60 percent of the nation’s $1.7 trillion health care cost.
Meanwhile, he noted, many workers must sacrifice wage increases in order to keep health care coverage. Though he did not say so, the 70,000 UFCW members in Southern California–now locked out, have offered to take small wage hikes, at most, in return for continuing health coverage.
Young admitted the 1992 defeat of President Clinton’s universal health care plan–based on the present system–“marginalized” the issue, even as he called Clinton’s plan “a bad bill.” But, he said, “The issue is rising again, because the health care system is in such bad shape.”