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Seniors, advocacy groups demand Pelosi's support
of universal health care bill

Seniors and universal health care advocacy groups held a rally Thursday outside Speaker Nancy Pelosi's district office at the Philip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco.
The rally was held to protest cuts to Medicare amid rising health care costs,
and to demand Pelosi's support of HR 676, a universal health care bill.
Photos by Luke Thomas

By Luke Thomas

December 15, 2007

Seniors and universal health care advocacy groups held a rally Thursday at the Philip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco to call on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to immediately begin hearings on the National Health Insurance Act (HR 676).

Introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in February 2005, and co-sponsored by seventy-eight members of congress, the single-payer health care legislation would "create a publicly financed, private delivered health care system that improves and expands on the existing Medicare program to all U.S. residents," according to the bill's summary.

At issue for the groups - Senior Action Network and the California Universal Health Care Organizing Project - are the continuing cuts in Medicare while health care costs continue to soar. Seniors on fixed incomes have been particularly hard-hit by the cuts.

The groups say it's time for the country to reexamine its social priorities and expand Medicare into a comprehensive universal health care system.

Unlike profit-driven health insurance companies that restrict medical services and refuse insurance to patients with pre-existing medical conditions, HR 676 will cover all medically necessary services for all Americans, at less cost than private insurance, without sacrificing quality of care, or choice of health care providers.

Thirty-one percent of every dollar spent on private health insurance is wasted on excessive administrative overhead, whereas Medicare administrative overhead is an efficient three to five percent.

"When you have health care overhead that is as much as thirty-one percent of every premium dollar, that's a lot of money that is going into just keeping the insurance industry afloat," congressional candidate Barry Hermanson stated during the rally, "and as a result, we have a lot of people in this country who are not covered by health care."

District 12 candidate for Congress, Barry Hermanson.

Fourty-eight million Americans do not have health insurance, and over 50 million are underinsured.

If HR 676 is enacted, businesses would pay less to insure their employees. For example, in 2006, an employer paid an average of 74 percent of an employee's premium, or $8,510. Under HR 676, employers and employees would pay an equal Medicare tax contribution of 4.75 percent each. For an employee making the median family income of $56,200 per year, an employer would pay just $2,700.

Additional funding for the program would be realized from a 5 percent health tax on the top 5 percent of income earners, 10 percent on the top 1 percent of wage earners, and a tax of one quarter of 1 percent would be levied on stock transactions. The bill would also close corporate tax loopholes and repeal Bush administration tax cuts for the highest income earners.

Though the nation would pay the same for universal health care , HR 676 would produce savings of $387 billion per annum over costs of private health insurance.

"I am a big supporter of HR 676," Hermanson said. "As a former small business owner, it just makes sense to me."

Referring to the ongoing labor dispute between nurses and Sutter Health over benefits and Sutter's plan to eliminate acute care services at St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco by 2009, California Nurses Association president Kay McVay asked rally participants: "What is Sutter doing? They're closing St. Luke's. The problem these people are saying they have is that St. Luke's doesn't make money, so they want to close it."

California Nurses Association president Kay McVay

"HR 676 would be the answer," McVay continued. "We would have health care for everybody. There's no reason why we can spend twelve million dollars an hour in Iraq and not find the money to be able to care for our own people, for our children, for our mothers and fathers who are grandparents. There is no acceptable reason. HR 676 is a necessity for our survival," she said.

Pentagon funding presently consumes over 50 percent of the U.S. budget, calling into question the nation's social and economic priorities. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not provide universal health care to its citizens.

"It's incomprehensible to me," Hermanson said, referring to the Bush administration's insatiable appetite for military spending and congress' failure to bring to an end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. "We have a government now, on both sides of the aisle, that unquestionably supports the Pentagon."

Asked why universal health care legislation, particularly Conyer's bill, has not received support from Pelosi or congress, Hermanson said: "Because there is so much money from the health care industry that goes into the campaigns of every elected official."

Reached for comment, Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill contends that trying to get universal health care passed without a presidential veto is next to impossible.

"If we can't even get low-income children covered, I don't know how we can possibly get the administration to support universal health care coverage," Hammill said, referring to a second Bush veto, Wednesday, of a bill that would expand health insurance to children.

The State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) would provide health insurance for families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford to buy private insurance. The bill would still leave millions of Americans without health care coverage if signed into law.

"Right now, the Speaker's first priority in the health care arena is passing the SCHIP legislation," Hammill said. "We're very close to being able to override the president's veto in both the house and senate."

Hammill said he was hopeful Conyer's bill would receive the attention it deserves after the Bush administration is termed out of office, and a Democrat is elected to the White House.

For millions of Americans and seniors, January 2009 may just be too long to wait for the health care they need today.


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