Union Opponents Of Medicare For All Don’t Speak For Labor’s Most Vulnerable Members

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Above Photo: From Beyondchron.org

As popular support grows for replacing private insurance plans with Medicare for All, critics of the single-payer approach have been playing up the fact that some top union officials, and their political allies, don’t want to do away with job-based medical coverage.

“There’s no question that ultimately we need to establish a single payer system,” says national AFL-CIO President Richard  Trumka. “But there has to be a role for those hard-fought-for, high-quality plans that we’ve negotiated.” Echoing Trumka in Democratic primary debates, former Vice-President Joe Biden, tells labor audiences that, “if you have a generous union-backed plan and you have given up union wages to get that plan, you can keep it.”

Harold Schaitberger,  leader of the International Association of Fire Fighters, has even suggested that his union, which backs Biden now, might not support a Democratic presidential candidate who favors Medicare for All. Says Shaitberger: “We’d be very troubled with any nominee who advocates for the elimination of private employer or negotiated plans.”

Maybe these statements do reflect the concerns of some higher paid workers with more “generous union-backed plans.” But they are out of touch with the needs of lower-wage workers whose employers offer health insurance plans that are completely unaffordable and inadequate.

I can personally attest that the union I work for is constantly waging “hard fought” battles to secure “high quality plans” at several Bay Area nursing homes and hospitals. At these workplaces, our members, unlike most American workers, can collectively bargain about the amount of premium contributions, co-pays, and deductibles they are required to pay for doctor visits or hospital stays.

For example I was recently in a contract bargaining session with members who work at a small nursing home  in San Francisco. A Certified Nursing Assistant told the management bargaining team about her struggles to get care with their current health insurance plan. “Because of the $6000 deductible it’s as if we have no health insurance at all,” she said. “When I injured my leg a few weeks ago, the doctor wanted me to get an MRI. I told them I couldn’t do it. I can’t pay $1000 for an MRI, when I’m making only like $18 an hour. Every time I have to go to physical therapy it costs $70. Sometimes I cancel the appointments because I can’t afford them. I am afraid that they are going to tell me I need surgery, because I just don’t know how I’ll be able to pay for it.”

One of the company’s executives, who had flown in from their regional office in Southern California that morning, tried to look sympathetic. “Thank you for sharing,” he said, “I know how hard it is to share something like that. I’m just paying off a debt from a medical procedure myself.” But he went on to say that the proposal we had made to change to a fully employer-paid health insurance with no deductible was “ridiculous and unrealistic.” We pointed out that workers used to have this kind of health insurance plan before the company took over their nursing home, and that the company’s profits had tripled since that take-over. He explained matter of factly that profitability has nothing to do with how the company compensates its employees.

After this very informative exchange management left the room so that the workers and I could caucus privately. Another member of the bargaining team, a housekeeper in his late fifties who has worked at the nursing home for over 20 years, was furious. He and his wife, who works in the kitchen at the facility, often have to go to the hospital for different healthcare services.  Every time they are shocked by the costs, which all have to be paid out of pocket.

We know that it may take months of further bargaining, probably even informational picketing and strikes, and support from community leaders, and elected public officials to get an affordable healthcare plan for these workers who have dedicated their lives to providing quality healthcare to their patients.

But that won’t stop the owners of this and other for-profit health care facilities from putting workers’ benefits on the chopping block again, at the earliest possible opportunity. Even the much higher-paid health care professionals I represent at reputable “not for profit” institutions like Marin General Hospital must struggle, in every round of contract bargaining, to maintain decent health care benefits.

At a November 2nd Medicare for All Rally in downtown San Francisco, Unite Here Local 2 President Anand Singh voiced his support for the reform, noting how his members at the Marriot hotel chain had to go on strike last year for 61 days to secure fair wages and affordable health insurance. Like Singh, I believe that affordable health care is a human right, whether you’re a firefighter, a housekeeper, or even the executive of nursing home chain. Workers should not have to strike for something that is a basic human right. It is heartening that union’s like Local 2, that National Union of Healthcare Workers, the California Nurses Association and many others see that union members and their families would all benefit from a system providing comprehensive, high quality care no longer tied to anyone’s age or employment.

If there’s any politician out there – particularly a candidate for president, like Joe Biden – who believes that Medicare for All is too costly or that we aren’t “ready” for such a profound reform–I want to personally invite them to our union’s next bargaining session over health benefits, or even better, out to our next picket line. They will quickly discover what a high price workers already pay to maintain job-based medical coverage, even when they can organize and bargain for the best possible “union-backed plan.”

  • Blaine

    A huge unspoken component of this – with Single Payer it will be much easier to change jobs = more competition by employers to retain employees.

    Some of their saving will have to go forward to employees to slow what will become a very robust rate of turnover.

  • chetdude

    I’ve had this argument with alleged “lefty” Union members/retirees and My answer is are ANY of the Union Plans better than this one:

    “Would you give up the insurance you now have if the new public plan was guaranteed for life, always providing you with your choice of physicians and hospitals, providing all essential benefits, including drugs, dental, eye, mental health, and long term care, had no out-of-pocket costs whenever accessing health care, and was paid for by taxes that you could afford because they are based on your ability to pay instead of being based on the high costs of care?”

    That’s what HR1384 – Expanded and Improved Single Payer Medicare for All will provide…

    Universal (everyone in)
    Affordable (no medical bills; prepaid through equitable, progressive taxes)
    Comprehensive (including drug, dental, eye, hearing and long-term care)
    Free choice of doctors and hospitals (no insurer provider lists – no “out of network”)
    Accessible (regional planning)
    Efficient (eliminate private insurance and administrative waste)
    Portable (care throughout the United States)
    Permanent (throughout life)

  • chetdude

    Exactly true and why corporate Amerika hates Single-Payer M4A EVEN though it would save most businesses massive amounts of cash (taken from wages)…

    Employees won’t have the chains of employer based health care tying them down to jobs they hate…

    And will have to be either paid more or they will leave…

  • Greeley Miklashek

    Price controls cannot happen without Single Payer and that’s why the insurance/drug/hospital/medical establishment are so resistant and threatening folks with loss of their familiar “private” insurance plans. BS! Go Bernie and Elizabeth!

  • mwildfire

    Yes, but if they “gave up potential wage increases for the health plan” then they lose out under the new arrangement, even if it’s better than that negotiated-for deal…because everyone gets it? The gold standard health plan they bargained for isn’t valuable unless some people are struggling like the woman quoted in the article above. Question is, is this how many rank and file workers feel–or just the union officials who did that bargaining and are afraid they’ll look bad if the biggest plus is rendered unnecessary.

  • 👍 Well said. I learned recently from Dr. Michael Magee that ther are 16 NON-medical (i.e. no training whatsoever in health care) people working in Health Care for every Doctor. This scandalously wrong.

    Economic Update: The 😈 US’s Profit-Driven Medicine
    Partner Content Provided By:Economic Update with Richard Wolff
    November 15, 2019

    This week: Updates on on Berlin, Germany’s law freezing all rents for 5 years; over–indebted corporations threatening the world economy; prisoners’ slave labor in Los Angeles; French inequality and yellow vests; Bernie Sanders’ push to put workers on corporate boards of directors; Prof. Wolff interviews Dr. Michael Magee on the medical-industrial complex in the United States.

  • 👍 You are 100% RIGHT!

    Senator Bernie Sanders ✨ for PRESIDENT!

  • chetdude

    BINGO.

    To put it another way huge corporations with the primary goal of ever-increasing quarterly profits DRIVE the entire USAmerican remedial sick care system.

    That is why cures are less attractive than treating symptoms or preventive care — more profit.

    That is why surgery and drugs are the default “treatments” — more profit.

    That is why most people experience “assembly line” hit and run doctor visits — more throughput, more profit.

    That is why they’ve employed thousands of people employed to find reasons to deny care and deny payments for care — more profit for the insurance corporations.

    HR1384 – Changes the GOAL of the system to effective, comprehensive Health Care as a Human Right for Everyone… removes the worst offenders (insurance corporations) and gives us the hammer to begin beating down the other cost drivers: AMA, Big PhRMA, monopolistic medical corporations and the corporations manufacturing “equipment and supplies”…

  • chetdude

    Yes, a few Unions have been in collusion with the bosses in crafting contracts that trade away the huge productivity gains over the last 40 years in exchange for minimal (often multi-tier) salary increases and “health insurance” that sounds better than the kind most employers allow their wage slaves to get.

    So yes, once HR1384 gives EVERYONE Platinum medical, dental and vision insurance that’s more comprehensive and cheaper to access than the best of the current Union negotiated plans, a tiny minority of workers and retirees will get a “bad deal” — that is, the wages and perks they traded away for 2nd rate insurance (instead of the normal 4th or 5th rate insurance) will “take a loss” once everyone gets 1st rate insurance.

    So they can choose to be bitter and pissed off (as a couple that I’ve corresponded with) about getting hosed by blaming the majority who finally ALL get something better than what they’ve had instead of the Bosses who’ve been f*cking them over for decades…

    OR they can be happy and grateful that EVERYONE including themselves will enjoy much superior Health Care as a Human Right.

    I suppose that’s a “choice”.

  • chetdude

    One of the most egregious numbers I remember are these:

    When I was working with a couple of doctors to promote Single-Payer M4A in Obama’s shock troops house parties pimping for the industry written ACA, one of the docs had a practice with 5 doctors in the office and 6 clerks to deal with the 3,600 DIFFERENT forms, payment methods, sets of requirements, billing codes, etc. that they had to deal with to get reimbursement for care (not to mention hours on the phone instead of seeing patients to get care “authorized”)…

    Then I heard that the ACA was going to increase the complexity by a factor of 4 to over 14,000…

    HR1384 – eliminates nearly ALL of that complexity…

    (Love Prof Wolff)…

  • chetdude

    Watching it now…16 NON-medical folk for each Doc…crazy…

  • 👍 You are welcome, my friend. Thanks for fighting the good fight.

    Yes, the insurance paperwork mindfork is a voracious parasite designed to consistently and continuously increase non-medical doctor visit costs. 😠

    With Medicare-for-ALL the bloated adminstrative costs (i.e. SWAG) would be reduced to about 2% at the most. 👍

    These thieving “health care” corporations defraud and milk people for all they are worth, making them a Capitalist’s gravy train to the tune of over 17% of US annual “GDP” (see: stock market valuation based false equivalence with US economy GDP 👎).

    The Medicare-for- All 😈 naysayers wring their hands and clutch their pearls about alleged “40% billing fraud” in Medicare to defend 👹 Corporate Health Insurance. The real reason they push that legerdemain is that they know Medicare-for-All would put Wall Street in a death spiral 👍 when all those “Health” Insurance Stocks tanked as a result.

    What those bought an paid for liars and crooks never want to talk about is that the fraud costs of Medicare are minuscule compared with the FRAUD, worthless or harmful meds and procedures, paper-pushing and OVERBILLING that Corporate Health Insurers engage in 24/7.

  • David Bedford

    Joe Biden is really a Republican running in the Democrat party, he is Bernie’s biggest obstacle to Medicare for all and he’s trying to pander to his constituents who already have Medicare that it will weaken when in actual fact Bernie will expand Medicare to cover dental, eye glasses and hearing aids.

  • David Bedford

    Just like the Congressional Black Caucus is a tool of the establishment and rarely does anything to benefit poor black people

  • mwildfire

    cooptation–it’s what Democrats do