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News :: Human Rights : Labor : Politics : Social Welfare
Members of Congress told: "It's time for a Medicare for All solution"
02 Sep 2005
With BOSTON - New census data released on August 30 helped galvanize support for a public forum on Sept. 1 where Congressmen John Tierney and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) heard from a diverse group of seniors, workers, caregivers, immigrants, women, people of color, the uninsured, and local elected officials in support of a "Medicare for All" solution to the health care crisis.
The growing severity of the health care crisis brought together over 40 grassroots organizations in Massachusetts for an impressive -- and unusual -- showing of political unity for health care reform based on extending Medicare to everyone. In a statement earlier this year at the National Press Club, Senator Edward Kennedy described how it would work:

"I propose we expand Medicare over the next decade to cover every citizen - from birth to the end of life. Its administrative costs are low. Patients' satisfaction is high. Unlike with many private insurers, they can still choose their doctor and their hospital. I call this approach Medicare for All, because it will free all Americans from the fear of crippling medical expenses and enable them to seek the best possible care when illness strikes. It is long past time to extend that success to all."

Reps Frank, McGovern, Olver and Tierney are sponsoring legislation in the House - HR 676 - that would implement the Medicare for All approach. More members of the Massachusetts delegation are expected to endorse the bill as it gains more grassroots support.

"I'm pleased to be a cosponsor of HR 676 that would expand Medicare coverage to every American," said Rep. James McGovern. "It's a shame that President Bush and the Republican controlled Congress won't consider the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act instead of bringing forward meaningless bills that only protect their corporate friends."

The hearing, attended by over a hundred people, featured three panel presentations focusing on cost, access, and quality - the key elements that must all be addressed by any worthy reform proposal.

The new U.S. Census Bureau data shows that in Massachusetts -- at 13.2 percent -- the share of uninsured among people under 65 in 2004 was the highest it has been in seven years. The Massachusetts rate peaked in 1997 at 14.3 percent, declined annually through 2001 when it was estimated at 9.3 percent, and then rose in each of the next three years.

"Just focusing on the number of uninsured actually understates the problem," said Barbara Ackermann, the former Mayor of Cambridge who now serves on that city's Joint Board of Hospitals and Public Health. "Underinsurance is also a major problem. Many seniors on Medicare are underinsured and cannot afford essential care as needed."

"Insurance companies shouldn't be allowed to hold the health of our country hostage," said Gerald Heng, president of the Association of Asian-Americans Foundation. "A plan that covers everyone is the best way to bring costs under control and improve the quality of care."

"A plan like Medicare for All brings 'Everybody In' and leaves 'Nobody Out'," said Catherine DeLorey, a member of Massachusetts Public Health Association's board of directors. "It creates powerful incentives to strengthen public health programs that will eventually make everyone healthier and save society billions of dollars."

After bruising contract negotiations with her employer Ametek Aerospace over who should pay for escalating health costs, IUE-CWA Local 201 member Carol Cormier said, "It's clear to me and my union that all employers are trying to resolve the health care crisis on the backs of their employees. That's wrong. Instead, we need to recognize that this problem can't be solved in negotiations. It's time to work together for real solutions like Medicare for All that can only be achieved in the halls of Congress or our state legislatures."

"The system they've set up for the new Medicare Rx plan brings in unnecessary middlemen," said Ann Stewart, a member of Mass Senior Action Council and participant in the Prescription Advantage program. "The bureaucracy makes it so complicated that its bound to confuse and frustrate people. A simple system for everyone like Medicare for All makes the most sense."

"Over fifteen years of privatization, deregulation, job reengineering, managed care, hospital closures and cuts in essential services has resulted in an industrial model of health care that I call mangled care," said long-time reform advocate Sandy Eaton who works as an RN at Quincy Medical Center. "As a result, no matter what kind of insurance you may or may not have, you take your life in your hands when you get plugged into this dysfunctional system."

Other caregivers are stressing the importance of their roles in the quality of care. "We can't have conversations about health care reform, including universal health care, without including community health workers in the conversation." said Lisa Renee Siciliano, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Community Health Worker Network.

Although Personal Care Attendant Nugent Palmer has many years of experience providing essential home-based services to Massachusetts residents with disabilities, he and other PCA's have no access to health care coverage -- regardless of how many hours they work.

Heng, Ackermann, Delorey, Cormier, Stewart, Eaton, Siciliano, and Palmer all testified at the Faneuil Hall hearing along with many others. Former at WBZ TV 4 news reporter Sarah-Ann Shaw, a civil rights organizer and human services advocate, moderated the forum.

"Skyrocketing costs, deteriorating quality of care, loss of insurance coverage and access to essential services is affecting everyone's health care," said Rep. Tierney. "Common sense solutions like extending Medicare to cover everyone can save money while improving quality and access to health care for all."

"When we started organizing the hearing, only one member of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation had signed on. Now we have four out of the ten," said Paul Cannon, President of Teamsters Local 122 and co-chair of Jobs with Justice's Health Care Action Committee. "We've got our work cut out for us. It's time to step-up the pressure on our policymakers for comprehensive reforms that cover everyone."

Pictures from the Grassroots Hearing, a list of people who testified on the panels, a list of resources and groups supporting a Medicare for All reform approach, and copies of the statements and resolutions are available from Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.

# # #
Members of Congress told: "It's time for a Medicare for All solution"
Members of Congress told: "It's time for a Medicare for All solution"
Members of Congress told: "It's time for a Medicare for All solution"
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