Healthcare-NOW!’s Katie Robbins Isn’t Giving Up on Universal Coverage

By Joan Brunwasser for OpEdNews

My guest today is Katie Robbins, of Healthcare NOW. Welcome to OpEdNews, Katie. The health care bill, for better or worse, has been passed with no universal health care, robust public option or public option of any kind. But Healthcare NOW has not thrown in the towel. Why not? What are you up to now?

Thanks so much for inviting me. It’s great to have an opportunity to discuss this with you and your readers.

The new health law tinkers around the edges of our failed health care system. As long as we have private insurance in the mix, we will continue to see millions of people uninsured, tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths and bankruptcies, poor health outcomes, more bureaucracy, corporate greed, and the world’s most expensive health care system get more expensive.

Healthcare NOW seeks to support and grow the movement for health justice based on the merits of single-payer financing which will ensure that everyone can access the health care they need without rationing by ability to pay. Some folks see the road to single-payer through a public option, but Healthcare NOW seeks to build a movement that clearly demands a universal, equitable, and publicly accountable health system with everybody in and nobody left out. People don’t want a choice of public or private insurance plans; they really want their choice of doctors and hospitals much like the choice available to people on Medicare.

Medicare, which just celebrated its 45th anniversary, is the social insurance model we need to improve and expand to meet the human right to health care in this country. This week, single-payer activists from coast to coast organized dozens of events celebrating Medicare’s birthday, including a dance party for Medicare in New York City.

This anniversary holds special weight because of the formation of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, aka the Deficit Commission, which is looking to recommend cuts to Medicare and Social Security as soon as this December. In response, Healthcare NOW is urging Members of Congress and Federal Candidates to take a pledge declaring that they will protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security by taking them off the table of the Deficit Commission. The pledge also calls for a single-payer, Improved Medicare for All System (HR 676) to go back up for national discussion.

If these folks are serious about reducing the deficit, they should look to the kind of cost controls a single-payer system can provide. Hundreds of billions can be saved by negotiating the purchase of prescription drugs and medical equipment, along with the elimination of the waste of the private insurance companies. Of course, cutting the military budget and taxing the wealthy should also be included in any discussion on reducing the deficit, but these folks are set on cutting Social Security and Medicare. That’s why Healthcare NOW launched a new (tongue in cheek) campaign”Hands off our Medicare!” You can find out more at It’s time to be as loud as possible to stop these cuts. Our most important social safety net programs are in serious danger. We must protect the successful social insurance programs we do have, so we can continue to expand and improve them in the future.

You bring up a good point. We continue to spend heedlessly on the military and don’t think twice about bailouts and tax cuts for the rich, but Social Security is always being threatened and the huge savings and benefits that a universal health care system would bring are ignored. Are you taking the fight directly to the public, since Congress and the President have been pretty deaf to the allure of single-payer?

Actually, instead of being deaf to single-payer, I think that Congress, the President, and other opponents to passing single-payer at this time, have to continue to silence the demand for single-payer health care among other progressive demands.

First of all, we as a nation are faced with the century long propaganda war largely represented with the corporate driven talking points charging supporters of national health insurance with wanting a “socialist take over” of our health care system. We fight the same monied interests today as we did every time a national health insurance plan has been proposed seriously in the nation’s history yet polling continues to show that single-payer health care is supported by a majority of the public, nurses, and physicians.

In addition, blatant lies are used to bury support for single-payer and progressive solutions. A recent example of this tactic can be found in the skewed results of a series of “town meetings” organized by a private company, AmericaSpeaks, funded by the Peter Peterson Foundation. Peterson is a well known opponent of social security and has been gunning for its privatization for decades.

During the AmericaSpeaks meetings, there was a point when the proceedings were actually interrupted to address the number of times single-payer was called for by the participants even though it was not given as an option for reducing the deficit or controlling health care costs. That message was not delivered clearly in the follow up report from AmericaSpeaks. In addition, the report falsely claimed that most of the participants favored raising the eligibility age for Social Security. Actually only 39% of participants claimed that they favored such a change though they originally claimed 52% claimed they supported raising the age.

Of course, we as a movement must become strong enough to overcome these challenges, and that’s what we are faced with now. We must ask ourselves and find the answers in the true grassroots to how we can avoid these freight trains of regressive policies and build a movement that is bold enough to direct the agenda to meet the needs of the people. Healthcare NOW is committed to educating and advocating at the grassroots level for these critical policies, and we need to empower the public through the grassroots to organize and fight for these important issues.

That’s clear enough. Anything else you’d like to add, Katie?

Thanks, Joan! Just make sure to add our website and

The fight for single-payer continues!

Thanks so much for talking with me, Katie. Good luck to you and Healthcare NOW!


  1. Richard Heckler on August 13, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    The myth of the Social Security system’s financial shortfall,0,1359956.column

    The old age and disability trust funds, which hold the system’s surplus, grew in 2009 by $122 billion, to $2.5 trillion. The program paid out $675 billion to 53 million beneficiaries — men, women and children — with administrative costs of 0.9% of expenditures. For all you privatization advocates out there, you’d be lucky to find a retirement and insurance plan of this complexity with an administrative fee less than five or 10 times that ratio.

    This year and next, the program’s costs will exceed its take from the payroll tax and income tax on benefits. That’s an artifact of the recession, and it’s expected to reverse from 2012 through 2014. The difference is covered by the program’s other income source — interest on the Treasury bonds in the Social Security trust fund.

    That brings us back to this supposed $41-billion “shortfall,” which exists only if you decide not to count interest due of about $118 billion.

    And that, in turn, leads us to the convoluted subject of the trust fund, which for some two decades has been the prime target of the crowd trying to bamboozle Americans into thinking Social Security is insolvent, bankrupt, broke — pick any term you wish, because they’re all wrong. The trust fund is the mechanism by which baby boomers have pre-funded their own (OK, our own) retirements. When tax receipts fall short, its bonds are redeemed by the government to cover the gap.

    Despite what Social Security’s enemies love to claim, the trust fund is not a myth, it’s not mere paper. It’s real money, and it represents the savings of every worker paying into the system today. So I’m going to train a microscope on it.

    What trips up many people about the trust fund is the notion that redeeming the bonds in the fund to produce cash for Social Security is the equivalent of “the government” paying money to “the government.” Superficially, this resembles transferring a dollar from your brown pants to your gray pants — you’re no more or less flush than you were before changing pants.

    But that assumes every one of us contributes equally to “the government,” and by equal methods — you, me and the chairman of Goldman Sachs.

    The truth is that there are two separate tax programs at work here — the payroll tax and the income tax — and they affect Americans in different ways. The first pays for Social Security and the second for the rest of the federal budget.

  2. Richard Heckler on August 13, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Top 5 Social Security Myths

    Myth #1: Social Security is going broke.
    Reality: There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.6 trillion surplus (yes, trillion with a ‘T’). It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever.1 After 2037, it’ll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits—and again, that’s without any changes. The program started preparing for the Baby Boomers’ retirement decades ago.2 Anyone who insists Social Security is broke probably wants to break it themselves.

    Myth #2: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer.
    Reality: This is a red-herring to trick you into agreeing to benefit cuts. Retirees are living about the same amount of time as they were in the 1930s. The reason average life expectancy is higher is mostly because many fewer people die as children than they did 70 years ago.3 What’s more, what gains there have been are distributed very unevenly—since 1972, life expectancy increased by 6.5 years for workers in the top half of the income brackets, but by less than 2 years for those in the bottom half.4 But those intent on cutting Social Security love this argument because raising the retirement age is the same as an across-the-board benefit cut.

    Myth #3: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security.
    Reality: Social Security doesn’t need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, here’s a better way: Make the rich pay their fair share. If the very rich paid taxes on all of their income, Social Security would be sustainable for decades to come.5 Right now, high earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 of their income.6 But conservatives insist benefit cuts are the only way because they want to protect the super-rich from paying their fair share.

    Myth #4: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs
    Reality: Not even close to true. The Social Security Trust Fund isn’t full of IOUs, it’s full of U.S. Treasury Bonds. And those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.7 The reason Social Security holds only treasury bonds is the same reason many Americans do: The federal government has never missed a single interest payment on its debts.

    President Bush wanted to put Social Security funds in the stock market—which would have been disastrous—but luckily, he failed. So the trillions of dollars in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are separate from the regular budget, are as safe as can be.

    Myth #5: Social Security adds to the deficit
    Reality: It’s not just wrong—it’s impossible! By law, Social Security’s funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security can’t add one penny to the deficit.8

    Defeating these myths is the first step to stopping Social Security cuts. Can you share this list now?

    1.”To Deficit Hawks: We the People Know Best on Social Security,” New Deal 2.0, June 14, 2010
    2. “The Straight Facts on Social Security,” Economic Opportunity Institute, September 2009
    3. “Social Security and the Age of Retirement,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, June 2010
    4. “More on raising the retirement age,” Washington Post, July 8, 2010
    5. “Social Security is sustainable,” Economic and Policy Institute, May 27, 2010
    6. “Maximum wage contribution and the amount for a credit in 2010,” Social Security Administration, April 23, 2010
    7. “Trust Fund FAQs,” Social Security Administration, February 18, 2010
    8.”To Deficit Hawks: We the People Know Best on Social Security,” New Deal 2.0, June 14, 2010


    Privatizing Social Security Would Place the Nations Economy at Risk

    “Social Security privatization will raise the size of the government’s deficit to nearly $700 billion per year for the next 20 years, almost tripling the size of the national debt.

    Put simply, moving to a system of private accounts would not only put retirement income at risk–it would likely put the entire economy at risk.”

  3. Richard Heckler on August 13, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Removing nearly 2000 insurance providers,their CEO’s , their shareholders and the golden parachutes reduces the cost of insurance across the board immediately.

    Removing the administrative congestion of these approximately 2000 insurance providers knocks approximately 30% off the cost of medical insurance.

    IMPROVED Medicare Insurance for ALL eliminates the above at a huge savings to all who need to purchase medical insurance coverage.