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"We need everyone on board," writes Dudzic, "in order to build the unity necssary to resist the divide and conquer tactics of right wing authoritarianism." (Photo: Molly Adams/flickr/cc)

Pandemic Politics: 5 Reasons Why Medicare for All Must Be Part of a Workers' Recovery

When the dust clears, we must be sure that Medicare for All is at the center of our political agenda.

Mark Dudzic

The Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged the nation for nearly 20 months now and America's workers have borne the brunt of the crisis. While the wealth of the country's 614 billionaires increased by 62%, tens of millions of workers deemed essential have been forced to work under Dickensian conditions while disproportionately exposed to Covid-19 infection. Over 20 million workers lost their jobs at some point during the pandemic. The economy is still experiencing a net job loss and 11 million households face the threat of eviction.

"Working people are fed up with the abuses, inequalities, racial disparities and privileges that were laid bare by the crisis and are seeking out individual and collective ways to leverage their power and turn the tables on a rigged system."

At the same time, the relatively robust government assistance provided in the initial stages of the crisis has shown how social insurance programs can protect workers' incomes and health without precipitating the calamity that many in the corporate media were predicting would be caused by the "moral hazard" of poor people having a modicum of economic security.

These experiences have helped to generate a new "pandemic politics." On the one hand, corporate America is desperate to restore austerity and labor discipline. On the other hand, working people are fed up with the abuses, inequalities, racial disparities and privileges that were laid bare by the crisis and are seeking out individual and collective ways to leverage their power and turn the tables on a rigged system. Overshadowing everything is the threat of right wing authoritarianism and the danger that the corporate elite will embrace it as they seek to maintain control.

Out of this crucible a worker based recovery program is emerging. We believe that the fight for Medicare for All must be a central tenet of such a program. Here are five reasons why:

  1. The healthcare meltdown continues unabated. Unlike the rest of the industrialized world, 10% of U.S. adults under 65 were uninsured at the height of the pandemic and one-third of those with insurance and one-half of those without were saddled with medical debt. Where private insurance failed, social insurance stepped in as 6% of workers lost their employment based coverage and public insurance programs stepped up to fill the gap. Healthcare costs continue to increase faster than workers' wages and are projected to increase 6.5% in 2022. Employment based health insurance has been proven unsustainable and must be replaced by a program of universal social insurance like Medicare for All.
  2. "Striketober" is upon us and healthcare costs are a factor in nearly every negotiation. From cereal makers in Michigan to hospital workers in Buffalo, unionized workers are going on strike and rejecting contracts that shift the burden of pandemic recovery onto their backs. Taking healthcare off the bargaining table by making it a right for everyone in America would vastly increase workers' bargaining power and make it easier for workers to stand against vicious union busting attacks like those currently being waged by ExxonMobil against oil workers in Texas and Tenet Healthcare against nurses in Massachusetts.
  3. The reconciliation window is rapidly closing. Ferment at the grassroots has helped foster a new assertiveness within the Congressional Progressive Caucus and other groups regarding the pending budget reconciliation bill. 17 national unions have called for the Bill to include substantial Medicare expansion that would lower the eligibility age to 60, add much needed dental, vision and hearing coverage and authorize drug price negotiations that would cover all plans. Such an expansion would immediately benefit millions of Americans, strengthen social insurance programs  at the expense of private insurance, weaken Big Pharma's chokehold over drug pricing and win new allies in the fight for Medicare for All. But powerful forces are on the move to weaken and dilute these efforts and to divert funding to shore up for-profit insurance coverage. Contact your Member of Congress today. Tell them you want nothing less than the full Medicare Expansion Program supported by 17 unions.
  4. Medicare privatization is an attack on healthcare as a public good. Veteran labor organizer and LCSP co-founder Jerry Tucker used to love to quote the old civil rights adage: "Remember, while you be dreaming, they be scheming." While we work to strengthen Medicare and use it as a model to provide healthcare for all, the profiteers seek to convert it into a private insurance product.. Already, 30% of Medicare recipients are actually purchasing an inferior private insurance plan through so-called Medicare Advantage programs. Even more insidious is the rise of Direct Contracting Entities (DCEs), launched during the Trump Administration and currently being continued by the Biden Administration. This program could move up to 30 million Medicare enrollees into commercial for profit plans without their knowledge or consent.  Sign the petition against DCE and learn more about what we can do to stop it.  
  5. When the dust clears, we must be sure that Medicare for All is at the center of our political agenda. The reconciliation bill debates will soon be over but the fight to make healthcare a right for everyone in America will remain. Union contract struggles come and go but the need to take healthcare off the bargaining table is central to building a revitalized labor movement. Even the pandemic will end someday but the massive inequalities and insecurities generated by our for profit healthcare system will continue. We need to ensure that the powerful energies being unleashed by this "pandemic politics" moment results in a sustainable movement with the breadth, vision and organizing capacity to win a real recovery for workers that will carry us forward until healthcare is a right for everyone in America.

To make your voice heard, sign this petition to demand Congress support Medicare for All as a way to "ensure that every person is guaranteed quality health care regardless of their ability to pay." If you're a union member, learn more here about what can be done to support the Labor Campaign for Single Payer.

We need everyone on board in order to build the unity necssary to resist the divide and conquer tactics of right wing authoritarianism and to stand in solidarity with working people everywhere who are fighting for decent healthcare and a better world for everyone.


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

Mark Dudzic

Mark Dudzic is a longtime union activist and former national organizer of the Labor Party. He currently serves as chair of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare. Follow the LCSP on Twitter: @LaborforSPayer

 

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