Top AFL-CIO Leaders and the Health Care Crisis - A Driverless Car

By Ed Grystar

August 9, 2017


With public opinion polls consistently showing health care a top concern among the population, single payer's popularity growing, and 116 Congressional Democrats now co-signing HR 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All, the AFL-CIO Executive Council recently passed a resolution calling their "core goal" the "expeditious" move to a system "like" Medicare for All.

While calling for a single payer system "like Medicare for All" is positive, it should be noted that the resolution calls for "no specific path" which in practical terms means there's no organized plan of action that CLCs and unions are encouraged to implement or organize around. Since they call for no plan of action, there is no budget or resources committed to implementing this resolution.

One has to wonder how the AFL-CIO's "core goal" of attaining Medicare for All will ever occur.

Incredibly, HR 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All is not even mentioned in the resolution even though it has the support of over 600 labor organizations around the nation according to the Unions for Single Payer Healthcare.

In 2009, the AFL-CIO actually referenced HR 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All in its health care resolution. So in 2017, in a time of unprecedented right wing assaults access to health care and an opportunity to move boldly forward, labor's top leadership seems to be going backward.

Instead, mentioned are the "reforms" of the public option and lowering the Medicare age as practical goals. Long time single payer advocates, the respected doctors of the Physicians for National Health Plan have shown why these are not "solutions" that in any way challenge or alter the current health care delivery system controlled by for-profit private health care insurance. Unfortunately, the current health care problems that the resolution says should be addressed and are excerpted from the resolution below are intrinsically part of the for profit insurance based health care delivery system, which has existed long before Trump became president and today's Republican control of all branches of the federal government.

If Congress and President Trump are truly interested in improving health care for working people, there are many things they could do. They could start by addressing problems that matter most to people, like hollowed-out coverage with deductibles that are far too high for the typical person, unjustified spikes in prescription drug prices and the “Cadillac Tax” on high-cost health plans."

These are real problems but they are part and parcel of the Affordable Care Act which was passed in 2010 by Democrats with the full support of the AFL-CIO. Top CEOs of the insurance industry made over 9 BILLION just in compensation since the passage of Obamacare. Picking up on the "fix it" mentality, a bipartisan group of forty in the House of Representatives labeled as the "problem solvers" has cobbled together a reactionary package of proposals that will further erode coverages and continue subsidies to the insurance companies, thereby stabilizing the for-profit system and making the problems even worse. One fix is to raise the ACA mandate for employer offered insurance from fifty full time workers to 500 which will force many workers out of coverages and throw them into the individual health insurance market.

Another "fix" would allow insurers to reduce benefits by offering cheaper, skinnier plans. The costs of premiums might go down but higher deductibles will shift even more costs to patients. PNHP correctly calls this bipartisan compromise, "the selling of cheap, worthless plans." None of these problems can be "solved" in the context of the for-profit insurance based delivery system which needs public subsidies and mandated enrollment to even exist. By sitting on its hands and refusing to publicly mobilize the growing grassroots support for Medicare for All, the AFL-CIO gives credibility to these phony solutions. The health care crisis is systemic and requires a vision that challenges the dictates of the for-profit big Pharma/insurance-run setup.

Because the business union leadership of the AFL-CIO is tied to capitalism, their solutions can not challenge the fundamentals of the profit making of corporate America. Nor can labor's reliance on the corporate-controlled political hand maidens of the Republican and Democratic parties offer the kind of program that speaks to the needs of everyday workers. The mainstream media, drunk on advertising from many of these health care corporations, has essentially banned single-payer as part of the debate even though it has the support of a sizable part of the population.

This totally inadequate response to the healthcare crisis has exposed the bankruptcy of the top labor bureaucracy and their support for free market solutions, bipartisanship, and "partnership" with corporate America. They are unable to formulate any long or short term strategy that first protects the workers, because to do so would fundamentally challenge the ability of the private sector to provide solutions.

With an anxious and restless public looking for solutions and the single payer movement gaining strength, it would be an understatement to say that both the union rank and file and the public are ready for far more. What the working class and general public needs is principled labor leaders with an independent fighting strategy that builds on the growing base of public support for Medicare for All.

A real plan of action that organizes and mobilizes the growing momentum for single payer is the only way to alter the terms of the political debate and change the balance of power so that the idea of health care a human right, not "stabilizing the insurance markets" is put front and center. This is not only necessary but a totally practical plan given the current atmosphere. Labor still has the necessary resources that can get such a public effort off the ground.

Unfortunately, the way forward won't be found in this resolution. We must work to make it happen.


Ed Grystar is former representative for the PA. Assn. of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals and has over 30 years experience negotiating union contracts. President of the Butler County United Labor Council (PA), AFL-CIO, from 1987 to 2003, Pennsylvania state coordinator for the 2004 Dennis Kucinich campaign, and Western Pennsylvania coordinator of Labor for Jackson in 1988.

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