On the Doorstep With a Plea: Will You Support Medicare for All?

Art Miller listened patiently as the stranger on his doorstep tried to sell him on the Medicare for All Act of 2019, the single-payer health care bill that has sharply divided Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail.

The visitor, Steven Meier, was a volunteer canvasser who wanted Mr. Miller to call his congresswoman, Abby Finkenauer, the young Democrat who took a Republican’s seat last year in this closely divided district — and press her to embrace Medicare for all. Beyond congressional politics, there was the familiar role that Iowa plays as the first state to weigh in on the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I want to know how my grandkids are going to pay for it, O.K.?” Mr. Miller, 71, mused, peering at the flier that Mr. Meier had handed him.

It was a fairly typical encounter for Mr. Meier, 39, who with hundreds of volunteers around the country is working with National Nurses United, the country’s largest nurses’ union, to build grass-roots support for the single-payer bill, a long shot on Capitol Hill and a disruptive force in the party. House Democrats have declared this Saturday and Sunday to be “a weekend of action on health care” — but they are split over whether to embrace extreme change or something closer to the status quo.

A single-payer health care system would more or less scrap private health insurance, including employer-sponsored coverage, for a system like Canada’s in which the government pays for everyone’s health care with tax dollars. Democrats not ready for that big a step are falling back on a “public option,” an alternative in which anyone could buy into Medicare or another public program, or stick with private insurance — a position once a considered firmly on the party’s left wing.

Lawmakers like Ms. Finkenauer, mindful of the delicate political balance in their districts, fear the “socialism” epithet that President Trump and his party are attaching to Medicare for all. On Friday, Mr. Trump called the House bill “socialist health care” that would “crush American workers with higher taxes, long wait times and far worse care.” But even Ms. Finkenauer, who beat the incumbent Republican in November by 16,900 votes, has been pulled left by the debate, embracing the public option, which could not get through Congress when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

“In a divided Congress, I’m focused on what we can do to bring immediate relief to Iowans,” she said in an email.

The nurses’ union and a number of other progressive groups want nothing less than a government system that pays for everyone’s health care, seizing on the issue’s prominence and a round of Medicare for all hearings in the House with canvassing in the districts of many of the 123 House Democrats who have not thrown their support behind a single-payer system.

“Hearings are a moment for us to have a national stage for this campaign,” Jasmine Ruddy, the lead organizer for the nurse union’s Medicare for all campaign, told several dozen new volunteers on a training call last month. “It’s up to us to take advantage of the momentum we already see happening and turn it into political power.”

But building support for a single-payer health care system has been slow going. On Wednesday, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, convening the House’s third Medicare for all hearing, said it was about “exploring ideas.”

Republicans warned darkly of sky-high tax increases, doctor shortages and long waits for care. Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the senior Republican on the committee, said his constituents were “frightened” about their private coverage being “ripped out from under them.”

The nurses’ union campaign began just after Democrats won the House in November, when the union and several other groups held a strategy call with Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, the chief author of the Medicare for All Act, and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who pushed Medicare for all into the mainstream during his 2016 presidential campaign.

“Rather than try to convince people it’s the right system,” Ms. Ruddy said, “our strategy is to reach the people who are already convinced that health care is a human right, to bring them in and actually make them feel the action they are taking matters.”

In Dubuque, Mr. Meier and his partner, Briana Moss, have knocked on 250 doors and gathered about 50 signatures over the past few months. About 20 volunteers, including a retired nurse and several college students, are also involved. Nationwide, canvassers have knocked on 20,000 doors and collected 14,000 signatures since February.

On a Saturday afternoon, Mr. Miller, a Vietnam veteran, told Mr. Meier about his positive experience with government health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, saying, “I’ve seen how it can work.”

A few houses down, a woman who owns a cleaning service and would give only her first name, Sharon, and her party affiliation, Republican, said that if the bill covered abortions, “I won’t go for that.”

She added that she would be happy to stop paying $170 a month for supplemental insurance to cover what Medicare does not, but she did not want to see people who do not work receive free care. From the garage, her husband hollered that he agreed. Conceding defeat, Mr. Meier and Ms. Moss moved along.

Both Sanders supporters, they took on the cause in part because Ms. Moss has Type 1 diabetes and has struggled on and off to stay insured, though now she has Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of the program. Ms. Moss, 30, went to see Ms. Finkenauer in her district office this year and asked if she supported a government system that eliminated insurance. Ms. Finkenauer, she said, stated her preference for a public option.

“That’s simply a compromise that leaves the insurance companies still in the game,” said Mr. Meier, who recently started working at John Deere building backhoes and will soon have employer-based coverage after being uninsured for his entire adult life.

The Jayapal and Sanders bills would both expand traditional Medicare to cover all Americans, and change the structure of the program to cover more services and eliminate most deductibles and co-payments. There would effectively be no private health insurance, because the new system would cover almost everything; Mr. Sanders has said private coverage could be sold for extras like cosmetic surgery.

While polling does show that Medicare for all has broad public support, that drops once people learn it would involve raising taxes or eliminating private insurance. That finding bewilders Mr. Meier, given many of the conversations he has on people’s front steps.

Those conversations keep coming. Rick Plowman 66, complained bitterly about how despite having Medicare, he had to pay nearly $500 for inhalers to treat his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Still, he was skeptical.

“I just don’t know what it’s going to look like down the road,” Mr. Plowman said. “Even Social Security for kids, you know? Even for you guys?”

“I’m willing to start making that sacrifice right now,” Mr. Meier pushed back. Mr. Plowman signed the petition.

At a white bungalow around the corner, Mr. Meier found — finally — that he was preaching to the choir with Bobby Daniels, 50, and his wife, Andrea, 46. Mr. Daniels, a forklift operator from Waterloo, said their coverage came with a $3,000 deductible and he would “most definitely” support Medicare for all. Ray Edwards, 36, an uninsured barber, also heartily signed on.

At the final stop of the day, Mr. Meier and Ms. Moss encountered Jeremy Shade, 36, a registered Republican who promptly told them his sister lived in Canada and had spent “hours and hours in the hospital, waiting for care” under that country’s single-payer system.

“I get that concern, and it’s something I’m worried about, too,” Mr. Meier said as Mr. Shade’s dog barked. “Would you be interested in maybe just calling Abby Finkenauer and saying, ‘Hey, what are we doing about the health care problem in this country?’”

“My wife would,” Mr. Shade said, explaining that she was a Democrat. “I’m real wary about it.”

Two hours of hot canvassing amid swarms of gnats had yielded six petition signatures and a few pledges to call Ms. Finkenauer. Mr. Meier was determined to end on a positive note. “I really think health care could be the issue that could get people to stop being so on one side or the other,” he said, a point that Mr. Shade accepted, shaking his hand before retreating inside.

 

 

 

A Large Employer ‘Frames’ The ‘Medicare For All’ Debate

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/large-employer-frames-medicare-all-debate

As health costs continue to grow, straining employer budgets and slowing wage growth, the business community is beginning to take the option more seriously.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

More than 156 million Americans get employer-paid healthcare, making it by far the single-largest form of coverage.

Medicare-for-all supports say the health system overall would see savings from a coordinated effort to lower prices and administrative costs and eliminate insurance company profits.

While large business lobbying groups strongly oppose Medicare for all, the resolve of many in the business community — especially among smaller firms — may be shifting.

Walk into a big-box retailer such as Walmart or Michaels and you’re likely to see MCS Industries’ picture frames, decorative mirrors or kitschy wall décor.

Adjacent to a dairy farm a few miles west of downtown Easton, MCS is the nation’s largest maker of such household products. But MCS doesn’t actually make anything here anymore. It has moved its manufacturing operations to Mexico and China, with the last manufacturing jobs departing this city along the Delaware River in 2005. MCS now has about 175 U.S. employees and 600 people overseas.

“We were going to lose the business because we were no longer competitive,” CEO Richard Master explained. And one of the biggest impediments to keeping labor costs in line, he said, has been the increasing expense of health coverage in the United States.

Today, he’s at the vanguard of a small but growing group of business executives who are lining up to support a “Medicare for All” national health program. He argues not that healthcare is a human right, but that covering everyone with a government plan and decoupling healthcare coverage from the workplace would benefit entrepreneurship.

In February, Master stood with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) outside the Capitol after she introduced her Medicare for All bill. “This bill removes an albatross from the neck of American business, puts more money in consumer products and will boost our economy,” he said.

As health costs continue to grow, straining employer budgets and slowing wage growth, others in the business community are beginning to take the option more seriously.

While the influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other large business lobbying groups strongly oppose increased government involvement in healthcare, the resolve of many in the business community — especially among smaller firms — may be shifting.

“There is growing momentum among employers supporting single-payer,” said Dan Geiger, co-director of the Business Alliance for a Healthy California, which has sought to generate business support for a universal healthcare program in California. About 300 mostly small employers have signed on.

“Businesses are really angry about the system, and there is a lot of frustration with its rising costs and dysfunction,” he said.

Geiger acknowledged the effort still lacks support from any Fortune 500 company CEOs. He said large businesses are hesitant to get involved in this political debate and many don’t want to lose the ability to attract workers with generous health benefits. “There is also a lingering distrust of the government, and they think they can offer coverage better than the government,” he said.

In addition, some in the business community are hesitant to sign on to Medicare for All with many details missing, such as how much it would increase taxes, said Ellen Kelsay, chief strategy officer for the National Business Group on Health, a leading business group focused on health benefits.

Democrats Propel the Debate

For decades, a government-run health plan was considered too radical an idea for serious consideration. But Medicare for All has been garnering more political support in recent months, especially after a progressive wave helped Democrats take control of the House this year. Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, strongly back it.

The labor unions and consumer groups that have long endorsed a single-payer health system hope that the embrace of it by employers such as Master marks another turning point for the movement.

Supporters of the concept say the health system overall would see savings from a coordinated effort to bring down prices and the elimination of many administrative costs or insurance company profits.

“It’s critical for our success to engage employers, particularly because our current system is hurting employers almost as much as it is patients,” said Melinda St. Louis, campaign director of Medicare for All at Public Citizen, a consumer-rights group based in Washington.

Master, a former Washington lawyer, worked on Democratic Sen. George McGovern’s presidential campaign before returning to Pennsylvania in 1973 to take over his father’s company, which made rigid paper boxes. In 1980, he founded MCS, which pioneered the popular front-loading picture frame and steamless fog-free mirrors for bathrooms. The company has grown into a $250 million corporation.

Master frequently travels to Washington and around the country to talk to business leaders as he seeks to build political support for a single-payer health system.

In the past four years, he has produced several documentary videos on the topic. In 2018, he formed the Business Initiative for Health Policy, a nonprofit group of business leaders, economists and health policy experts trying to explain the financial benefits of a single-payer system.

Dan Wolf, CEO of Cape Air, a Hyannis, Mass.-based regional airline that employs 800 people calls himself “a free market guy.” But he also supports Medicare for All. He said Master helps turn the political argument over single-payer into a practical one.

“It’s about good business sense and about caring for his employees and their well-being,” he said, adding that employers should no longer be straddled with the cost and complexity of healthcare.

“It makes no more sense for an airline to understand health policy for the bulk of its workers than for a health facility to have to supply all the air transportation for its employees,” he said.

Employers are also an important voice in the debate because 156 million Americans get employer-paid healthcare, making it by far the single-largest form of coverage.

Master said his company has tried various methods to control costs with little success, including high deductibles, narrow networks of providers and wellness plans that emphasize preventive medicine.

Insurers who are supposed to negotiate lower rates from hospitals and doctors have failed, he added, and too many premium dollars go to covering administrative costs. Only by having the federal government set rates can the United States control costs of drugs, hospitals and other health services, he said.

“Insurance companies are not watching the store and don’t have incentives to hold down costs in the current system,” he said.

Glad The Boss Is Trying To Make A Difference

What’s left of MCS in Pennsylvania is a spacious corporate office building housing administrative staff, designers and a giant distribution center piled high with carton boxes from floor to ceiling.

MCS pays an average of $1,260 per month for each employee’s healthcare, up from $716 in 2009, the company said. In recent years, the company has reduced out-of-pocket costs for employees by covering most of their deductibles.

Medicare for All would require several new taxes to raise money, but Master said such a plan would mean savings for his company and employees.

MCS employees largely support Master’s attempt to fix the health system even if they are not all on board with a Medicare for All approach, according to interviews with several workers in Easton.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Faith Wildrick, a shipper at MCS who has worked for the company 26 years. “If the other countries are doing it and it is working for them, why can’t it work for us?”

Wildrick said that even with insurance her family struggles with health costs as her husband, Bill, a former MCS employee, deals with liver disease and needs many diagnostic tests and prescription medications. Their annual deductible has swung from $4,000 several years ago to $500 this year as the company has worked to lower employees’ out-of-pocket costs.

“I’m really glad someone is fighting for this and trying to make a difference,” said Wildrick.

Jessica Ehrhardt, the human resources manager at MCS, said the effort to reduce employees’ out-of-pocket health costs means the company must pay higher health costs. That results in less money for salary increases and other benefits, she added.

Asked about Medicare for All, Ehrhardt said, “It’s a drastic solution, but something needs to happen.”

For too long, Master said, the push for a single-payer health system has been about ideology.

“The movement has been about making healthcare a human right and that we have a right to universal healthcare,” he said. “What I am saying is this is prudent for our economy and am trying to make the business and economic case.”

 

“This is prudent for our economy and am trying to make the business and economic case.”

 

 

Organizers: Johns Hopkins Reaches Settlement With Nurses Seeking To Unionize

https://www.wbal.com/article/392993/3/organizers-hopkins-reaches-settlement-with-nurses-seeking-to-unionize


Johns Hopkins Hospital has reached a settlement with registered nurses seeking to unionize, their national organizing committee said.

“This settlement makes clear that nurses have the right to form a union, we have a right to speak with our coworkers about a union, and Johns Hopkins does not have the legal right to target and intimidate nurses who engage in union activity,” registered nurse Alex Laslett said in a statement. “We are organizing at Johns Hopkins because we know a union affords nurses the protection we need to advocate freely for the best care for our patients.”

Hopkins reached a settlement of claims filed by the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United with the National Labor Relations Board. The board found that the hospital created the impression that union activity would lead to surveillance and unlawful surveillance. The hospital enforced a rule barring nurses access to break rooms in connection with union activity and prohibited nurses from talking about the union at work, the NLRB found.

The settlement requires management to post signs throughout the hospital affirming nurses’ right to unionize. Those signs must be in place by June 14.

“In Catholic social teaching, we teach and believe that all workers have a fundamental human right to organize and to form unions and when an employer such as Johns Hopkins violates this fundamental right, they are acting unjustly and must be held accountable,” Father Ty Hullinger, a pastor in East Baltimore and a member of the Coalition for a Humane Hopkins, said in a statement. “This settlement puts Johns Hopkins on notice that the community is watching their actions and holding them to a standard that is moral and just.”

Officials with the national union said nursing staff at Hopkins asked for help organizing a union to address high turnover due to poor staffing, inadequate equipment and low pay.