AFL-CIO Leaders Work to Derail Rank and File Drive for Single Payer

Does the leadership of the AFL-CIO favor a single payer, Canadian-style, Medicare-for-all, health insurance system? They do not.

The California Nurses Association, which joined the AFL executive council earlier this year, supports single payer.

More than 350 other union locals support single payer.

More than 80 members of the House of Representatives support legislation that would create a single payer system in the United States (HR 676).

But the leadership of the AFL-CIO does not support single payer.

They may say they support it.

But yesterday, at a press conference at the National Press Club, it became clear that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and his fellow labor union bosses are actively working to derail the rank and file movement for single payer.

Sweeney and leaders of the SEIU, UFCW, Bricklayers, Laborers, and Teamsters - along with DLA Piper partner and former Congressman Dick Gephardt - yesterday put their stamp of approval on a employer-based state health insurance reform plan by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D).

The Illinois plan is similar to one introduced by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) for California and Governor Ed Rendell (D) for Pennsylvania.

These employer based "reforms" have been roundly criticized by Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) and the California Nurses Association (CNA) as undermining the nationwide drive for single payer.

"We should get rid the employer-based health insurance system," said PNHP's Dr. Don McCanne. "It's a regressive method of funding health insurance. There are all kinds of problems with them. All of these reforms are inadequate measures that will only postpone the day that we actually fix the system with single payer."

In the past, the CNA has been critical of the SEIU for supporting reforms like those proposed by Governor Blagojevich.
In June, for example, CNA president Rose Ann DeMoro told Corporate Crime Reporter that "rather than being on the side of the workers, SEIU continues to be on the side of the bosses."

"And it's a disgrace," DeMoro said.

But yesterday, CNA did not return calls seeking comment.

At the press conference, Blagojevich was asked why he didn't support single payer.

"So much of what you do in government is done through political realities," Blagojevich said. "The art of politics in government is the recognition of what is possible. The choice is between whether you take an existing structure - an employer-based health care system and build on that, shore that up - or whether you scrap the whole thing and create a whole new system that historically has not taken root in the United States."

"And while it has been done in other countries, it has not been able to get a beachhead in our country," he said. "And my reading of history in the United States is that when change happens in America, it generally happens by building on existing institutions and existing structures rather than tearing them down and building something completely new and different. So, in a perfect world and in theory, the single payer system is one that I could certainly support. Whereas as a practical matter, I don't think it is something we are going to achieve in the near future."

Especially with that kind of leadership.

Sweeney was asked whether the AFL supports single payer, and if so, why is he working to undermine it.

"I recognize that there is tremendous support for single payer," a subdued Sweeney said. "But as the Governor has said, it is important that we move on health care coverage now with what we have the political will to achieve. That doesn't mean we aren't going to continue to strive for a single payer health care system."

Yes it does.

The press conference was pulled together by America's Agenda: Health Care for All.

By the way, here's a new rule of thumb for Washington: when you hear the words "universal health care" or "health care for all," wait a few seconds and a health insurance industry lobbyist will walk to the mike.

Yesterday, leading off the press conference was Ken Thorpe - introduce as the nation's leading health policy expert.

Thorpe called the Illinois proposal - "the most promising health care reform legislation enacted anywhere in America in the last 40 years."

After the press conference, I sought out Ken Thorpe and asked him who he worked for.

"I'm a consultant for America's Agenda - Health Care for All," he said. "I also teach at Emory University."

Do you also work for the health insurance industry?

"Do I work for them?" he asked.

Do you consult for them?

"I've done studies for them," Thorpe said. "I don't consult for them."

Have you been paid to do the studies?

"Oh yeah," he says.

Who were you paid by?

"Blue Cross Blue Shield Association."

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. He is co-author with Robert Weissman of The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy.

(c) 2007 Corporate Crime Reporter

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.