AFL-CIO Endorses Sanders/McDermott American Health Security Act of 2011

By the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer Healthcare

Stating that, “The fight to reform our nation’s healthcare system has only just begun,” AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker declared the Federation’s support for companion single-payer Bills submitted by Senator Sanders and Congressman McDermott. The Bills provide every American with affordable and comprehensive health care services through the establishment of a national American Health Security Program that requires each state to set up and administer a universal health care program.

Speaking at a press conference called by Sanders and McDermott, Holt Baker declared that, “The Single payer approach is one that the AFL-CIO supports and that deserves dedicated congressional support.” Holt Baker referred to the AFL-CIO 2009 Convention resolution and subsequent Executive Council actions in support of a social insurance model for healthcare reform and called on congressional leaders to unite behind such a plan. The full statement by Holt Baker is available here.

The American Health Security Act would provide universal coverage for comprehensive services including mental health and long-term care and incorporates Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and TRICARE (the Department of Defense health care program) but maintains health care programs under the Veterans Administration. It will emphasize primary and preventative care and free choice of providers.

A seven member national board will set standards and establish a national health budget. Each state would have the choice to administer its own program or have the federal Board administer it. It will be progressively financed through a modest employer payroll tax, a 2% tax on all incomes, a surcharge on high-income taxpayers and a financial transactions tax. Private insurance companies would be prohibited from selling coverage for any service provided by the Act. Union Funds and private insurance could continue to provide supplemental coverage.

Several labor leaders thanked Senator Sanders and Representative McDermott for their efforts. “We commend Senator Sanders and Representative McDermott for their vision and passion to help registered nurses create a more just healthcare system and applaud our brothers and sisters in labor for their support,” said Jean Ross, R.N. co-president of National Nurses United.

“Senator Sanders has always been a champion of healthcare for all,” said Vermont State Labor Council, AFL-CIO President Jill Charbonneau. “We are proud to call him our Senator. This Bill will not only take healthcare off the bargaining table, it will provide immediate relief for the massive budgetary burden that state and local governments must assume to provide decent benefits for their current and retired employees. It is the ‘high road solution’ to both the deficit crisis and, by guaranteeing universal health care, addresses the moral crisis embodied in the current U.S. health care system.”

“This is a Bill that all of organized labor can get behind,” said South Carolina AFL-CIO President Donna Dewitt. Jos Williams, President of the DC Metro Labor Council added that the Bill removes the burden of dealing with healthcare issues at the bargaining table. “At a time when states and cities are seeking to cut workers’ hard won health benefits, the American Health Security Act will level the playing field by equitably financing the provision of healthcare to all Americans.”

LCSP Coordinator Mark Dudzic pointed out that there are 6 aspects of the Bill of particular interest to organized labor:

1. Its framing of the healthcare issue as a human rights issue.
2. A recognition that union-sponsored benefit funds would continue to play a role in providing supplemental and expanded benefits to their members.
3. Dedicated funding to ensure that transitional benefits would be available for insurance industry and administrative workers who may be displaced as a more efficient and streamlined healthcare system is adopted.
4. A progressive financing system that fairly taxes all sources of income and includes an innovative new financial services tax.
5. A single standard of care for all Americans, an emphasis on primary care and equal access and a respect for the skills and training of health care workers.
6. A focus on state administration which will facilitate coordination with the various state-level single payer movements.

Many proponents of this Bill, including the Labor Campaign, also continue to support HR 676 which was re-submitted by Representative Conyers in January and currently has 42 co-sponsors as well as various efforts to institute state-level reforms on a single-payer model. In their remarks, both Senator Sanders and Congressman McDermott stated that their actions complement the recent passage of a Bill in Vermont which may put that state on track to be the first to establish healthcare as a basic human right.

“This Bill would take a huge step towards realizing our human right to health care, and we welcome that this is the bill’s explicit goal,” said James Haslam, Director of the Vermont Workers Center. “With this bill we would no longer treat health care as a market commodity, sold to those who can afford it, but as a public good, shared by all. This would be the culmination of a growing people’s struggle for the human right to health care, not only in Vermont, but around the country.”