Health care consumers know that the nurse as the primary caregiver is the key to quality healthcare. So it is significant that nurses have hailed Friday's passage of a key amendment in the House Education and Labor Committee to the national healthcare reform bill this morning that would enable individual states to go a step farther and adopt single-payer, Medicare-for-All style reforms.
Introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, the amendment would remove potential legal impediments for states to pass single-payer bills by waiving federal exemptions that apply to employer-sponsored health plans.
The amendment passed on a bi-partisan vote of 25-19, with the support of both progressive, single-payer Democrats and many Republicans who endorsed the ability of individual states to pass their own versions of health care reform.
"This is a historic moment for patients, for American families, and for the tens of thousands of nurses and other single-payer activists from coast to coast who can now work in state capitols to pass single-payer bills, the strongest, most effective solution of all to our healthcare crisis," said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.
"There are many models of health care reform from which to choose around the world - the vast majority of which perform far better than ours. The one that has been the most tested here and abroad is single-payer," said Kucinich in urging passage of the amendment.
"Under a single-payer system everyone in the U.S. would get a card that would allow access to any doctor at virtually any hospital. Doctors and hospitals would continue to be privately run, but the insurance payments would be in the public hands. By getting rid of the for-profit insurance companies, we can save $400 billion per year and provide coverage for all medically necessary services for everyone in the U.S.," Kucinich said.
The amendment will still need approval from the full House and in a final version from the Senate. Nurses and other healthcare and community activists made numerous calls to legislators in support of the amendment, and will continue to press for its enactment in the final bill.
For those who have opposed the proposal, DeMoro called it "a very modest amendment that simply protects choice for residents of individual states who favor more comprehensive reform."
Recent reports from both the Department of Health and Human Services and the prestigious medical journal Health Affairs have documented that compared to people with private insurance, Medicare enrollees have greater access to care, fewer problems with medical bills, and greater satisfaction with their health plans and the quality of care they receive.
The reason for improved access, quality, and lower costs under Medicare, said DeMoro, "is that under Medicare, insurance companies, whose central focus is profits for their shareholders not delivery of care, don't have the ability to deny care, limit coverage, or continually raise prices that endanger the health and financial security of patients."
"The successes and standards of Medicare should be the model for reform for all Americans," said DeMoro. "If the final national bill will not meet that test by establishing Medicare for all, then let's give Americans the tools to pass it in individual states."
Currently, if states were to pass single-payer laws, as California, for one, has twice, only to have the bill vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it could be subject to immediate legal challenge due to the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act which applies to all employer-paid health plans. The Kucinich amendment would provide an ERISA waiver.