I Have 'Some of the Best' Health Insurance a Union Member Can Get, But I Would Trade It Today for Medicare for All

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks while introducing the Medicare for All Act of 2019 with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) during a news conference on Capitol Hill, on April 9, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

I Have 'Some of the Best' Health Insurance a Union Member Can Get, But I Would Trade It Today for Medicare for All

Earlier this month, I witnessed a paid Culinary 226 Union organizer heckle Bernie Sanders and I haven't  stopped wondering why


I believe one job should be enough. I believe labor unions are the backbone of high productivity and a great quality of life. I'm a dues paying member of Culinary 226 in Las Vegas, NV. I'm on the contract committee and I'm a shop steward. All volunteer positions. I'm a waitress, a single parent and progressive activist: workers' rights mean everything to me.

After 16 years with this union, I am proud of what was accomplished before my time and hopeful about how we can continue to build on that. With a whopping 60,000 members, "this union that does politics" has been a community staple since its inception in 1935. I attend every picket and rally I can even if I have to drag along my 7-year-old daughter. I'm a union girl through and through. When implemented correctly, unions are the biggest difference between justice and injustice on the job. I know for a fact that without the protection of my union contract, I would have been wrongfully terminated years ago for refusing to sacrifice my dignity along with my labor and time. After the Janus Supreme Court decision in 2018, I never even considered retracting dues or surrendering membership. I believed that since I was always there for my union, they would be always there for me.

"I would trade my union insurance for Medicare For All today."

Earlier this month, I attended a Bernie Sanders town hall held by the Culinary Union 226 in Las Vegas and I witnessed a paid organizer rallying a small group to heckle Senator Bernie Sanders. This was right after a staged question about how Senator Sanders would accommodate the union to keep our insurance during and after the implementation of Medicare For All. Positing that all the members want to keep their union insurance instead of Medicare For All. For me, that couldn't be further from the truth. I need to speak from my own perspective since I have been erased from the conversation. Despite the uncanny familiarity of "The Irishman" film, the promise of being shunned or worse by a huge portion of the 60,000 and the fact that I'm one of the few active people who work at my particular restaurant, I still won't cower in fear from fascism in any form: foreign or domestic. I would trade my union insurance for Medicare For All today.

Culinary 226 has a reputation for having some of the best health insurance in the city and, relatively speaking, it is. Especially if you're an employee who rarely gets sick or doesn't have a chronic illness. I'm going to dispel some common myths and outline some reasons I would opt out of Culinary Health Fund in exchange for Medicare For All: out of pocket costs, quality of care, access to care freedom of choice and the perils of elitism.

I live with chronic illness and I've been somewhat successfully bootstrapping my way through symptoms for years. In 2019, I began to have bad flare ups. Because of the limitations of my insurance, I have not been given the recommended treatments and I have missed an exorbitant amount of work and had a pretty shitty quality of life since then. I've been dealing with chronic bilateral uveitis and the associated systemic fatigue and pain since January 2019. It's now December and I have yet to receive the systemic steroids, biologics, and immunosuppressants I need. I have Advil and eyedrops. I have encountered a maze of bureaucracy, delayed diagnosis and failure to treat. In the process I have spent more than I could afford for copays, diagnostic imaging tests (125-175 each), and prescriptions (at least $800 this year so far) . When you don't generate enough labor, the insurance isn't free either. This month I owe $334 by the 31st or I lose my insurance. I had to create a GoFundMe to subsidize my healthcare needs. $350 for emergency room and being kept there overnight $200 per visit to see an out of network doctor, and hundreds more to subsidize my upcoming travel to California to see a specialist so I don't lose my sight. It adds up. I need Medicare For All.

Here are a few factors: a shortage of specialists in my city, too few specialists being in the Culinary network and a generally apathetic nature of the healthcare system in Nevada. Culinary mostly represents bartenders, food servers, housekeeping badasses, bussers, dishwashers, and porters. These jobs are synonymous with manual labor at a very high volume. To say we will probably need medical care for connective tissue and orthopedic aliments is an understatement. However, when the Culinary Health Center was built, rheumatologists and other specialists were removed from network despite the fact that there are no specialists or rheumatologists at the free Culinary clinic. I had an in network rheumatologist literally refuse to treat me and offer me an appointment five months away when I was referred to be treated immediately. My current Opthamologist even called to advocate for me and was floored by the audacious negligence. This is a function of the for profit healthcare industry and Culinary insurance is part of that system.

I've heard of programs and assistance but after dozens of please for service, I'm exhausted. The damage is worse because this state has some of the most lax malpractice laws combined with the lowest reimbursement rates. You can figure out what type of talent that attracts to the city. When there is a competent doctor, they are booked to capacity or allow cash payment only. I wish my union consulted with members when speaking on our behalf about Medicare For All. To begrudge people the opportunity to remove their golden handcuffs if they so choose is cruel. Informed Consent is solidarity. Lies, manipulation and mob tactics are not the way. I need Medicare For All.

"If I had Medicare For All, I would probably be able to afford Christmas gifts for my kids this year instead of being the gift. If I had Medicare For All, I wouldn't have to travel to seek medical treatment or start a GoFundMe to expedite my treatment to avoid losing my job because I can't hold onto it much longer in this condition."

If I had Medicare For All, I would probably be able to afford Christmas gifts for my kids this year instead of being the gift. If I had Medicare For All, I wouldn't have to travel to seek medical treatment or start a GoFundMe to expedite my treatment to avoid losing my job because I can't hold onto it much longer in this condition. If I had Medicare For All, I wouldn't be on the chopping block at my job because they think Im faking it or don't care either way. If had Medicare For All, bias, delayed diagnosis or refusal of treatment would not be tolerated. We have to acknowledge the reality that for-profit insurance asserts that if you don't work you deserve what you get: up to and including death. Also, sick people don't deserve jobs.

Sadly, the illusion of elitism lies at the core of this issue. For years, I would be hit with pangs of guilt when I told people outside of the union what type of insurance I had and they wished they had good insurance too. Healthcare is a human right. Unfortunately, many of my fellow union members are echoing the "I paid off my student loans so no one should get loan forgiveness" trope. To their own demise at that! I like the idea of a $200 yearly cap on prescriptions or not waiting almost two months to get a necessary diagnostic test because you can't afford it. I want everyone to have great insurance. My nephew was born with Hirschsprung's disease and had four surgeries, including a colostomy, before he was 6-years-old. There is no cure. His young mom works long hours to provide for him in addition to making trips to Utah for him to get the best treatment. She owes thousands in deductibles that subtract from his care because she makes too much money to qualify for disability or Medicaid. He needs Medicare For All.

Medicare For All is a racial justice issue. Medicare For All is an immigrant rights issue. Medicare For All is a disability rights issue Medicare For All is a gender justice issue. Medicare For All is a women's rights issue. Women are less likely to have their doctors believe their symptoms. Black women have it much worse which shows up in black maternal mortality rates, terminal illness and chronic illnesses. Culinary Health Fund is not exempt from protecting all of its members. I'm not part of the largest voting bloc among members but I deserve to be valued and accommodated by my union too. Maybe this is what happens when your union leans more political than they should. It begs the question, what does my union have to gain from encouraging members to vote against their own interests?

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