The Covid-19 pandemic continues to expose the dysfunction and cruelty of the U.S. healthcare system. The pandemic caused the world’s life expectancy to drastically decrease. While life expectancy has bounced back throughout the world, it continues to decline in the U.S. In 2019, the average life expectancy in the U.S. was 79 years. Today, it is 76.4 years, the lowest since 1997, and continuing to decline. People of color experienced the starkest drops in life expectancy after 2019. For the average American, the reduction in life expectancy after 2019 is 2.6 years. Indigenous people of America saw their life expectancy decrease by 6.5 years. Hispanic people saw their life expectancy decrease by 4.2 years. Black people saw their life expectancy decrease by 4 years. Our broken healthcare system has failed to protect decades worth of progress made improving the health and longevity of the American people. It is clear now more than ever before that the U.S. healthcare system is unable to protect our most vulnerable communities.
According to the CDC, the lingering effects of Long Covid are still causing harm. Long Covid is when an individual continues to have Covid symptoms long after the infection passes. A report from June 2023 indicates that one third of all workers infected with Covid suffered or continue to suffer from Long Covid. They found that five percent of all workers who get infected with Covid in the future will not be able to return to work for at least a year.
The health inequities of the U.S. healthcare system are felt the most by people of color. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately suffer from inequitable health insurance coverage, higher rates of medical debt, and Covid-19 death and infection rates. The CDC reports that these racial groups also experience higher rates of illness and death across a wide range of health conditions. These conditions include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and more.
The U.S. is the only major country not to guarantee healthcare to all as a fundamental human right. Despite this fact, and despite the lack of effectiveness in protecting our health, the U.S. system costs twice as much per capita as any other healthcare system in the world. We spend more money on healthcare, and we have much less to show for it. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports that the U.S. spends nearly $13,000 per capita on healthcare. Meanwhile, other countries which provide guaranteed universal care to everyone spend much less than this. The United Kingdom spends $5,387 per capita, and Canada spends $5,905 per capita. Even though they have significantly reduced healthcare costs, they still achieve better healthcare outcomes while guaranteeing healthcare to all.
The U.S. healthcare system is not designed to protect the health of Americans. Instead, it is designed to accumulate as much profit as possible for health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. An analysis of the 2022 financial statements from the major health insurance companies shows that their profits have increased an outrageous 287 percent since 2012. The cost of health insurance increases every year not because it is necessary for the healthcare system to function, but because these companies want to maximize their profits. This is where the money Americans are spending on healthcare is going. Not towards the application of healthcare, but into the pockets of massively wealthy corporations.
To help pay for these corporate profits, Americans are drowning in medical debt. An investigation by the Kaiser Family Foundation (not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente) found that there are over 100 million people in America struggling with medical debt, including 41 percent of all adults in the U.S. They also found that, in the last five years, more than half of U.S. adults have gone into debt because of dental or medical bills. About one in five of those in medical debt reported that they didn’t expect to ever pay their debt off. About two thirds of those in medical debt have reported that they have delayed care for themselves or a family member because of cost. In 2022, 38 percent of all Americans reported they had to delay medical treatments due to cost, a huge increase from the 26 percent who reported the same thing in 2021. Medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy, accounting for 66.5 percent of all bankruptcies in the U.S.
At a time when Roe v. Wade has been overturned, and the rights of women and all people who get pregnant are under attack, Medicare For All would empower all those disenfranchised by the Supreme Court’s indefensible decision to receive the critical healthcare services they now struggle to access. Even before Roe v. Wade was overturned, access to reproductive healthcare services was limited and varied heavily based on where one lived. Now that states are implementing abortion bans, these healthcare services will become more expensive and harder to find for those who rely on them. With Medicare For All, the cost of reproductive health services would be covered, so that those who rely on these services will be able to use them. Passing Medicare For All is one of the major ways we can support women and all those who get pregnant during a time in which their rights are being stripped away from them.
Transgender people and all who rely on gender-affirming care are systematically excluded from healthcare coverage. As of 2023, only 26 out of 50 states require government insurance to cover gender affirming care. Many states are attacking LGBTQ+ rights and are restricting access to life-saving gender-affirming care. Trans people also suffer from higher rates of mental illness, including anxiety and depression. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, about one in 200 adults have made one suicide attempt. This number is one in five for trans people. About five percent of all people experience symptoms of depression. For trans people, that number is around 70 percent. Treating gender dysphoria with gender-affirming care saves lives. Medicare For All would cover gender-affirming care and mental healthcare for everyone.
Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Pramila Jayapal and Debbie Dingell have introduced the Medicare For All Act of 2023 to the House (H.R. 3421) and Senate (S. 1655). The Medicare For All Act would provide universally guaranteed healthcare coverage to all; eliminate the racial disparities in healthcare coverage; eliminate co-pays, deductibles, and premiums; provide reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming care; allow unions to negotiate higher pay and benefits; reduce our healthcare costs; eliminate medical debt; reduce preventable death; and make our healthcare system about health instead of about profit. Thanks to the organizing efforts of the labor movement and other activists, a majority of the Democratic caucus are co-sponsoring the bill. Even so, it will still take a mass movement of workers applying pressure on every level to win it.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 78th UE CONVENTION:
- Demands Congress enact the Medicare for All Act and in the meantime expand Medicare to include full coverage of dental, vision, and hearing, negotiation of drug prices, and lowering of the age of eligibility;
- Supports efforts to institute similar programs at the state level;
- Encourages locals and regions make use of UE’s “How to Fix Healthcare” workshop and to follow the action steps outlined in the workshop, including:
- Use UE’s Healthcare Cost Calculator, including with members in the shop especially during contract negotiations;
- Educate members about the real cost of their existing healthcare and organize members to call and visit their congresspeople in support of Medicare for All;
- Collaborate with their employer on a mutually-agreed-upon public statement in support of Medicare for All;
- Opposes all efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans’ Administration (VA) health benefits;
- Encourages the union at all levels to participate in coalitions for universal healthcare, including Labor Campaign for Single Payer, Physicians for a National Healthcare Program (PNHP), and Healthcare NOW!;
- Urges locals to contact their local VA to learn what medical benefits are available to our veteran members, and to lobby for restoration of fully-funded medical benefits for veterans and their families and preventive testing and screening of all veterans potentially exposed to depleted uranium or other toxins;
- Encourages locals to support the growing campaign for paid sick days and family leave in cities and states across the country;
- Calls upon the local, state and federal governments to expand coverage for mental health and substance abuse issues.