The deadly global COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the brokenness of the U.S. for-profit “healthcare system.” Despite having less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has had 25% of the world’s confirmed COVID cases and 20% of deaths. Of the 25 wealthiest countries in the world, the U.S. remains the only one that does not provide universal health care.
Because of institutional racism and unequal access to healthcare among other factors, people of color were among the hardest hit by the pandemic. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black or African-American persons were 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized by COVID-19 than white persons and 2.8 times more likely to die from the disease. Hispanic or Latino persons were 4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized and 2.8 times more likely to die.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 87 million Americans were uninsured or underinsured. A recent study by Families USA found that one-third of COVID-19 deaths and around 40% of infections were linked to a lack of health insurance. And during the pandemic tens of millions of people lost their employer-provided health insurance due to job loss, adding to the number of uninsured Americans.
While millions of Americans were suffering and dying as a result of the pandemic, the for-profit health insurance industry was making money hand over fist. Health insurance corporations’ profits doubled during the pandemic, passing along the billions of dollars of additional profits to their CEOs and shareholders.
As the for-profit health insurance industry was swimming in billions of dollars of additional profits, millions of Americans were sinking further in medical debt. A recent study published in Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that medical debt is twice as large as had previously been estimated — $140 billion in collections as of June 2020, compared to an earlier estimate of $81 billion. One out of six Americans had medical debt being pursued by collectors during June 2020. Medical debt is the main reason for personal bankruptcy, despite the U.S. spending more than $4 trillion on healthcare in 2020.
A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund reported that the U.S. came in last of high-income countries in access to health care, equity and outcomes, despite spending a far greater share of its economy on healthcare. Half of lower-income U.S. adults reported that they did not receive care because of the cost. The U.S. is the only one of the eleven countries surveyed not to have universal health insurance coverage.
Employers cut their healthcare bills by shifting costs onto workers. Healthcare costs make it difficult for union members to negotiate other economic gains at the bargaining table. UE’s Healthcare Cost Calculator, which is available on the UE website and has been used in conjunction with the UE workshop “How to Fix Healthcare,” has demonstrated how much healthcare takes out of our paychecks. Among those members who have used it so far, the overwhelming majority are finding that they are spending over 15 percent of their income on healthcare and typically closer to 25 percent, with some members reporting more than 50 percent.
Even before the pandemic, the public recognized the U.S. healthcare system needed a complete overhaul. Polling has consistently shown that a majority of the public — and a majority of doctors — support Medicare for All. This type of system has been used successfully in Canada for decades, where polls show over 85 percent of the public approves.
While an overwhelming majority of the public continues to support Medicare for All, it will take an organized, educated and mobilized mass movement to win it. Due to the ongoing efforts of Medicare for All supporters, 117 members of the U.S. House of Representatives — a majority of the Democratic caucus — have cosponsored the Medicare for All Act, H.R. 1976, introduced by Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is planning on introducing his Medicare for All legislation in the Senate later this fall. H.R. 1976 would establish a national health insurance program for all U.S. residents from birth or residency; cover all medically necessary services including inpatient, outpatient, prescription drugs, mental health and substance use services, reproductive health care, gender-affirming care, dental, vision, hearing, physical therapy and long-term care; eliminate all premiums, deductibles, copays and coinsurance; abolish obscene profit-making from our health care system; reduce classism, sexism and racism by eliminating a means-tested program for the poor; save over 68,000 lives every year; eradicate medical bankruptcy; and save $458 billion every year.
UE members have been in the thick of organizing for H.R. 1976. Twenty UE members, officers, staff and retirees attended the virtual 2021 Medicare for All National Strategy Conference earlier this year, and afterwards organized a UE Medicare for All caucus to continue organizing support for Medicare for All. UE Local 150 members in North Carolina have been active in the North Carolina Medicare for All Coalition which was successful in getting a couple of representatives to cosponsor H.R. 1976. UE members in contract negotiations at the East End Food Co-op and General Electric Appliances negotiated Medicare for All language in their contracts during this past year.
While we fight to enact Medicare for All that this country desperately needs, we should also push for the expansion of Medicare, including coverage of dental, hearing, and vision, negotiation of drug prices, and lowering the eligibility age. We must also fight to expand Medicaid on the state level.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 77th UE CONVENTION:
- Demands Congress enact the Medicare for All Act (H.R. 1976), 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 H.R. 1976;
- Collaborate with their employer on a mutually-agreed-upon public statement in support of Medicare for All;
- Opposes all efforts to undermine the ACA, 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.