By Ray Stever –
It is with great sorrow that the New Jersey One Plan One Nation coalition marks the passing of our strongest supporter and one of our oldest and dearest friends, Congressman Donald Payne. He cosponsored H.R. 676: The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. This act will expand and improve Medicare to cover all necessary medical care for all Americans, from cradle to grave.
Congressman Payne supported H.R. 676 because he recognized the humanity and the needs of people who were not members of the 1%. He cared far more about the health of human beings than he cared about the profits of the health insurance industry. He cared about the 45,000 Americans per year who die because they do not have health insurance. He cared about the families bankrupted by medical bills. Medical expenses are the major cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States.
As a former insurance executive, Rep. Payne knew that Medicare is far more efficient and fair than private insurance. He knew that shifting to a simplified single-payer, nonprofit, public system would streamline medical billing and eliminate the burden of dealing with insurance company clerks.
He was glad to know that NJOPON had figured out that Medicare for All would save the state of New Jersey about $2.2 billion per year, which is about 7.5% of its 2010-2011 budget. It would eliminate a $51 billion unfunded obligation for retirees’ healthcare. That’s $51 billion less debt for New Jersey taxpayers.
On July 30, 2011, NJOPON held a press conference at the New Community Senior Center to celebrate the 46th anniversary of Medicare. Congressman Payne wanted very much to appear but had to stay in Washington DC to cast a crucial vote. The following paragraphs are taken from the statement he asked me to read at the press conference.
“I would like to express my appreciation to Ray Stever, President of the New Jersey One Plan One Nation Coalition and all officials and organizations involved for organizing this press conference. I regret that I could not be there with you in person to celebrate the 46th Anniversary of the Medicare program. I am in Washington, DC working with my colleagues in Congress to protect Medicare on behalf of senior citizens in my district and throughout the country.
“Right now, the Republicans are wrangling votes for another unbalanced and partisan scheme to end Medicare as we know it. Republicans are focused on protecting the top 2 percent of Americans at the expense of 98 percent of our families. Unfortunately, on April 15, 2011, House Republicans passed a budget that would end Medicare and replace it with a system where seniors get a voucher to go out and buy private insurance. Under the Republicans’ program, there would be benefit cuts and cost increases for seniors. Rather than supporting our elderly and disabled citizens, tax breaks would be provided to special interest groups, Big Oil and corporations that ship jobs overseas. Republicans argue that the Medicare program cannot be maintained and must be completely replaced.
“I reject the Republicans’ efforts to end Medicare. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the halls of Congress to reach a balanced, bipartisan solution to reduce our deficit, create jobs, grow our economy and protect Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid beneficiaries.”
In this cynical age, many people complain that you simply can’t trust politicians. Congressman Donald Payne was an honest and trustworthy man. He worked for the least of his brethren. He supported the 99% in this country. He also served as a de facto ambassador to Africa, denouncing the genocide in Darfur and securing funding to fight malaria and HIV/AIDS. He was also a strong voice supporting an end to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
New Jersey voters must find a man or woman who will follow in his footsteps. His voice may be silent, but his principles must live on: his support for his constituents, his love for the labor movement, and most of all his passion to ensure that all Americans have health care from cradle to grave.