Dear Sisters and Brothers:
The Call for the National Single Payer Strategy Conference begins with an affirmation with which we agree wholeheartedly:
“We believe that a powerful resistance movement anchored in the labor and social movements can turn the tables on Trump and all that he represents. To win, we must inspire Americans to fight for what they need, not what the political establishment tells them they can get.”
And what they need is Single Payer, now! The American people support Single Payer (or Medicare For All) overwhelmingly. The Bernie Sanders campaign made Single Payer a household term; his call for it galvanized young people and workers from coast to coast.
With the Affordable Care Act now under attack by the incoming Trump administration, a wing of the establishment—the corporate Democrats—are telling us to hold our horses on Single Payer and focus on the defense of ACA. Many are the same people who told us that Single Payer could not be included in the Democratic Party platform or raised during the final months of the presidential campaign.
Yes, we must defend the gains contained in the ACA, but we cannot and must not defend the ACA as such. Nor should we put the ACA on the same level as Medicare and Medicaid, two historic gains.
The ACA was a law written by insurance industry lobbyists and representatives of other price-gougers in healthcare. Under ACA, hundreds of billions of dollars meant for the care of patients are siphoned off as profits for the big healthcare insurance companies—money that would be saved by their elimination from the system. This money could be used to ensure quality and comprehensive coverage for all residents.
The ACA’s flaws are fundamental: rising premiums (which are scheduled to spike big time in 2017), rising deductibles, rising co-pays, tens of millions still without coverage, exclusion of undocumented immigrants, bloated and wasteful administrative costs, growing problems in collective bargaining in negotiating good benefits programs, etc.
Labor economist Jack Rasmus summed it up well:
“In his farewell address, President Obama touted the fact that on his watch, 20 million of the 50 million uninsured got health insurance coverage, half of them covered by Medicaid, which provides less than even ‘bare bones’ care, assuming one can even find a doctor willing to provide medical services. The rest covered by ACA mostly got high deductible insurance, often at an out-of-pocket cost of $2,000 to $4,000 per year. Thus, millions got minimal coverage while the health insurance industry got $900 billion a year. . . .
“In the wake of ACA’s passage, big pharmaceutical companies have also been allowed to price gouge at will, driving up not only private health insurance premiums but Medicare costs as well, and softening up the latter program for coming Republican-Trump attacks.”
Indeed, the Democrats’ failure to campaign for Single Payer played right into Trump’s hands. This was best explained by Jack Kingston, a Republican former member of Congress from Georgia:
“One of the reasons that Hillary Clinton lost the election is the widespread anger in the Rust Belt and other regions over the rising costs of healthcare under Obamacare. It might not be a top media story, but it is certainly a discussion at the dinner tables in working-class and middle-class households across the country. Everyone is concerned that premiums and healthcare costs are going to soar in 2017 under Obamacare. Trump said that Obamacare has to go, and he got a real hearing.” (from interview on PBS at the Republican election-night gathering)
At a time when the national discussion is heating up around the question of what the ACA should be replaced with, the labor movement needs to go on the offensive with the call to replace ACA with Medicare For All. This, in fact, is the best way to defend and expand the gains contained in ACA. Trump claims that he is for solutions that make good business sense. Well, Single Payer is that and more!
To focus, as the Democrats are urging labor to do, on defense of ACA is a losing proposition. To win, we must inspire Americans to fight for what they need, not what the political establishment tells them they can get—and that includes the Democratic Party wing of the establishment.
It is time for labor to break with this “lesser-evil” approach to politics. It is time for labor to assert its independent voice. It is time for labor to break with its ties of subordination to the Democratic Party and launch a full-scale offensive to demand: Single Payer Now!
This is the message, we believe, that needs to come out of the National Single Payer Strategy Conference.
The Steering Committee of the Labor Fightback Network