Broad coalition builds for single-payer health care

The Affordable Care Act has made a dent in the glaring lack of health care for many millions of poor people in this, the wealthiest country in the world. But allowing states to op-out of providing Medicaid coverage for the poor, most often people of color, youth and those living in rural areas, means many millions more — in 23 states — have been denied access to essential health care.

This disgraceful loophole in the ACA was raised at the Healthcare-NOW! national strategy conference held in Oakland, Calif., Aug. 22-24. “The analogy was made to today’s red state governors standing in hospital doors to prevent the poor from entering just as Alabama Gov. George Wallace did on education” in 1962, Judy Lerma, national board member of the single-payer advocacy organization, told Workers World. Unlike in past years, the conference included two other allied organizations — the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer Healthcare and One Payer States.

“This conference was above all an attempt to link issues and build a broad coalition,” said Lerma, who represents Health care for All Texas and the Nurses Organizing Committee on the HCN board. In the labor workshop, “Speaker after speaker talked about not only the horror of the current system, but about the need for labor to talk to labor, to link issues of healthcare justice to other justice movements, to make the ultimate goal about healthcare justice” be seen as part of the overall struggle for human rights. Links to other progressive issues like the low-wage workers’ struggle and the struggles of immigrants, communities of color and the disabled were also raised.

“Points were made about the rich being richer because the poor are poorer: how the capitalists used to need a literate, healthy workforce, but now that manufacturing jobs are gone, healthcare and education are no longer needed,” reported Lerma. Nurses brought attention to the role of technology, which created jobs in the past but is now being used to destroy them, and promoted the “Insist on an RN Campaign,” which is needed to stop automated computer software systems from trying to “override nurses’ critical thinking and tell the nurse what to do.”

Lerma concluded, “The overall result of the conference, I think, was to pump people up, to facilitate networking, to get people to think more broadly.” She noted that the conference, held in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6 hall, was attended by about 300 activists, mostly older, mostly white, from as far as Vermont and Hawaii.

Healthcare-NOW!, founded in 2004 by longtime civil rights activist Marilyn Clement (1935-2009), is a community-based organization dedicated to building a movement for a “a publicly funded, single-payer healthcare system that is universal, equitable, transparent, accountable, comprehensive, and that removes financial and other barriers to the right to health.” HCN supports passage of HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, introduced in Congress by Rep. John Conyers Jr. in 2011 and supported by 51 congress members.