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.