A national health care program: Demands and vision

By Phil E. Benjamin, in People's Weekly World,
2 December, 1995

The 1995 off-year election defeats suffered by the Republican Party represents a rejection of the Gingrich Contract on America. Voters in Kentucky, Virginia and Maine sent a message to Washington, state capitols and local city halls that the people's needs will not be trampled on.

These elections bring new meaning to the need for an independent, labor/community political movement and party. That movement/political party would gain the full support of the health care movement if it adopts the a comprehensive health care program that includes certain key demands. A place to start: Medicare/Medicaid Plus.

People need and are demanding an expansion of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. In addition, the Supplemental Security Income and related federal programs need dramatic expansion to take care of the millions of disabled people.

That's right! The unpopularity of every component of the Medical-Industrial Complex needs to be translated into action and that action starts by taking back a large portion of their profits and plowing them back into programs that their politicians have plundered.

Restoration of cuts and increased funding for Medicare and Medicaid is the first punch of a two-punch program. That is the message for the Republican-controlled Congress. The other punch is for the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party. The Health Care Financing Administration must review its emphasis on privatization that allows insurance companies such as Oxford, U.S. Health Care and others to take over Medicare programs. This swindle simply must end.

Hospitals for people, not for profit

The Clinton administration bailout of the Los Angeles County hospitals was a step in the right direction. Bowing to political pressure and people's needs, Clinton did the right thing. For the immediate period, residents of Los Angeles can have confidence that their public hospital will be available. Now the White House has to turn its attention to Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Houston and every other major city to make sure that their public hospitals and community clinic systems are secure.

Once those hospitals are secure, attention must given to the "non-profit" and profit-making hospitals which could not exist without federal financing. This financing -- more than 75 percent of their operating income -- comes from Medicare, Medicaid and tax-supported financing. While not moving, at this time, toward a federal takeover of these tax-supported hospitals, the feds must exert greater oversight and control of their activities. They can insist, for example, on more reasonable salaries for hospital executives and fewer "perks" for their trustees -- both measures that would win broad support.

The vision thing

The demand for a national health program is gaining support and the movement for health healthy care reform must not be sucked into a rivalry between good ideas. With the changes that have taken place in the AFL-CIO leadership, the class collaboration of its former president, Lane Kirkland, is now history.

This, together with the results of the 1995 elections, present opportunities that must not be missed. For example, expansion of existing federal programs such as Medicaid and Medicare must be at the forefront of all activity. The single payer movement should continue in states where it already has a foothold, so that the uninsured in those states will receive some form of health insurance. But it would be shortsighted to make that demand the sole demand of a national movement for reform.

The combination of Medicare and Medicaid, federal support for public hospitals and clinics, must all be integrated into a public health plan that also includes occupational and environmental health efforts, school-based health programs, federal tuition programs that make it possible for working class and African American and Latin students to attend medical and health professional schools.

That is the vision that is needed for a people's political action health movement to meet and succeed in the challenge before us. The vision of a national health service can become a reality in these turbulent, exciting times.

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