Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Healthcare: Feeling the heat

I want an explanation as to how this got posted to the PA Blog.

We are for Obama's plan whatever it is.

Sam Webb
National Chair, CPUSA

Monday, May 11, 2009
Healthcare: Feeling the heat

by Ben Sears

On the front page of this morning's Phila Inquirer is an AP article reporting that six national organizations representing various sections of the healthcare industry are telling the President that they will offer $2 trillion in savings over ten years to help pay for a federal healthcare program. A reading of the article yields some interesting insights and some big questions. Some quotes from the article illustrate the point.

First, this offer, to be made in a letter to the President, shows that major private interests in the healthcare industry see the handwriting on the wall, are feeling the heat, and are desperately trying to influence the debate. As the article puts it, "The industry groups are trying to get on the administration bandwagon for expanded coverage now in the hope they can steer Congress away from legislation that would restrict their profitability. Insurers, for example, want to avoid the creation of a government health plan that competes with them to enroll middle-class families."

Further, the article notes that the industry proposal is short on specifics: "There is no detail on how the savings pledge would be enforced....the promised savings on private healthcare costs would accrue to society as a whole, not just the federal government. That's a crucial distinction because specific federal savings are needed to help pay to expand coverage."

Finally, what are the six groups supporting this proposal? In the last paragraph we find them listed. As expected they include the AMA, the American Hospital Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (i.e. the drug companies), the California Hospital Assoc, and the Greater NY Hospital Assoc. That makes five, right? And what is number 6? That would be the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Now my question: What exactly is the SEIU doing on this list along with the heavy hitters in the private healthcare environment? The article, of course, does not shed any light on this issue. Nor does it mention that as of today, over 500 labor and union related organizations including 39 state federations have endorsed the Conyers single payer bill HR 676.

Of course, we do not know what the plan that emeges from Congress and gets to President Obama's desk will look like. It will be the result of horsetrading and compromise based on power relationships. But does the presence of SEIU on this list mean that this union is giving up on, or does not support, the effort to include a public option in the final plan? If so, are they risking isolation and resentment, now or down the road, from from the forces struggling for real change in our healthcare system?


First of all, I do not want to denigrate the SEIU as a whole. They have organized many whom the broader labor monement has overlooked. Many of the locals are quite good, some have actually endorsed HR-676. But the leadership group, under controversial Andy Stern, is another matter. In fact, the largest local, UHW in California, recently revolted and has formed a new national union, NUHW. They have endorsed HR-676. See www.nuhw.org for details.

Up here in New Hampshire, we have run into SEIU people again and again, staging "health care reform" events around the state. These are well advertised and organized events, at which the focus seems to be on denigrating the single payer movement and pushing inclusion of the private insurance industry into a universal health care solution. Previously, as you probably know, they were in an alliance with AARP (the 2nd largest insurance vendor in the country) called DWF ("Divided We Fail") with a very expensive animated TV as campaign accompanied by similar organized community meetings. This collapsed, apparently over internal differences. Now the SEIU puppet show is called CTW ("Change That Works"), and they are posing as "realists" who profess to have no problem with single payer in concept but that it is right now unattainable politically. They are using the Obama euphoria (and borrowing the apparent current administration direction) to disorient people. The problem is that so far all their proposals (and this goes for Obama & Co as well) are vaporware, since there is no bill in Congress nor any document where they define exactly what they are proposing. It is as tricky to argue against them as it is to nail jelly to the wall. We, of course, have HR-676, which they never bother to mention, let alone critique in any detail.

On April 7, we attended one of their meetings in Concord (NH capitol), and brought an HR-676 fact booklet with us to distribute. We were accosted by SEIU folks, who told us we could not distribute this at the meeting. One woman who had taken our booklet was told she could not bring it into the meeting. Since it was a school building and public property, we contended that we had the right to hand out our literature, and that if they disagreed, they could call the cops. We managed to distribute a couple dozen booklets with as little disturbance as we could muster under the circumstances, while arguing with the SEIU and allied cadre. But one SEIU operative made sure we were videotaped as we left the school. Although advertised as a public meeting, SEIU people claimed that it was their private meeting with only invited sponsors (we were not "invited" to co-sponsor, in spite of being well known as the NH chapter of one of the oldest and most prestigious groups in the universal health care movement, PNHP), and that it was unfair of us to distribute our very modest literature - explanatory of HR-676 and single payer, not an attack on SEIU or any of the other sponsors.

The exact reasons why the Andy Stern group opposes HR-676 so strongly are unclear to me at this point. However, one complaint against Stern by the UHW folks in California was about a back-room deal with Schwartznegger against the Kuehl plan (SB-840, a state version of HR-676). So there is consistency of sorts.

Dave Ecklein
Lay member, PNHP

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