‘Don’t dismantle US healthcare system’ – warns Sanders

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‘IT didn’t take long. During the first week of 2017, the new Republican Congress has begun efforts to dismantle America’s health-care system,’ says Bernie Sanders.

He added: ‘Their long-standing goal, consistent with their right-wing ideology, is to take away health insurance from tens of millions of Americans, privatise Medicare, make massive cuts to Medicaid and defund Planned Parenthood.

‘At the same time, in the midst of grotesque and growing income and wealth inequality, they’re preparing to allow pharmaceutical companies to increase drug prices, and hand out obscene tax breaks for the top one-tenth of 1 per cent.

‘To be absolutely clear: The impact of repealing large pieces of the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans are planning to put on Donald Trump’s desk his first day in the White House, would be devastating.

‘If Republicans get their way, 30 million Americans, 82 per cent of whom are from working families, will lose their health insurance. With Medicare privatised, seniors will see their premiums increase by as much as 50 per cent while their benefits are cut and funding for nursing-home care dries up.

‘Underfunded hospitals around the country, particularly in rural areas, could be forced to close their doors, leaving millions of Americans with nowhere to turn for critical medical care.

‘Patient protections, like preventing insurance companies from denying coverage because of preexisting conditions, removing the cap on maximum health-care benefits, allowing children to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26, and preventing discrimination by insurers would all be eliminated.

‘Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry’s greed will be rewarded as prescription drug costs for older Americans will likely rise by as much as 50 per cent, and the wealthiest 2 per cent can look forward to a $346 billion tax break.

‘Not only is the Republican plan immoral and bad economic and social policy, it violates numerous promises Donald Trump made to the American people during his campaign. Trump told senior citizens and the American working class, many of whom ended up voting for him, that he was a different kind of Republican, and that he would not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

‘In a May 2015 tweet, Trump said: “I was the first & only GOP presidential candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.” In September, he told “60 Minutes” that if he was elected president, his health-care plan would take care of “everybody”.

‘Trump now has a choice: He can tell the American people that these campaign promises were lies and that he never intended to keep them. Or – and I hope this is the case – he can instruct his Republican colleagues to end their efforts to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and inform them that he will veto any bills cutting those vital programmes.

‘Those are Trump’s options. As we enter the new year, our message to Republicans is simple and straightforward: We will not allow you to punish the elderly, disabled veterans, children, the sick and the poor while you reward your billionaire friends. Instead, we will fight back. We will rally millions of Americans to make it clear to Republican leadership that we will not accept this vicious attack against senior citizens and working families.

‘We will demonstrate in their communities, jam up their phone lines and throw them out at the ballot box if they go forward with their plans. That is why on January 15, I and Democratic members of Congress, trade unions, senior citizen groups, healthcare activists and all those who believe in economic and social justice are organising a day of action called Our First Stand: Save Health Care. Rallies will be held around the country, including one in Michigan that Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and I will be attending along with Michigan’s US senators.

‘If Trump allows the Republican Party to go ahead with its plans, the GOP will dismantle the healthcare system and jeopardise the economic security of millions of Americans. Democrats in Congress will resist, but real change never starts from inside the Beltway.

‘It always comes when millions of Americans at the grassroots level stand up and fight for justice. We always win when we stand together. We lose when we are apathetic or allow demagogues to divide us.

‘That’s why it’s more important than ever to recommit to building a progressive movement that transforms the economic and political life of our country. Otherwise, we’ll be back where we were eight years ago, when millions of American families struggled to make a living without any way to pay for healthcare if family members got sick.

‘Elderly people, children and disabled veterans will be denied access to doctors and medication, and many will suffer or die prematurely. Fifteen years ago, Donald Trump said he was for universal health care. I hope he still is. The truth is, we shouldn’t be debating whether to take health care away from 30 million Americans.

‘We should be finding ways to join the rest of the industrialised world and guarantee health care to all people as a right. This is the conversation American policymakers need to be having right now. And we’re not going to let Trump or Congress forget it.’

• AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has issued a statement on the Department of Labor’s Colombia FTA Report

It reads: ‘I am pleased that the report released today by the Department of Labor in response to our submission on Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement found significant evidence of inadequate labour inspection and enforcement, abusive subcontracting, failure to prosecute threats and violence against unionists and other failures.

‘While the report is an important first step towards ensuring Colombian workers can fully and freely exercise their labour rights, it is critical that the United States not repeat mistakes of the past which have resulted in years-long delays of other labour complaints.

‘While we are pleased to see the report recommend a relatively brief nine-month dialogue period, the US government failed to pursue consultations under Article 17.7, which would enable the US to move most quickly to dispute settlement. We are hopeful that if Colombia is not in full compliance with its trade obligations at the end of this period, the US government will immediately enter into the 17.7 consultations rather than duplicating the unacceptable delays that have plagued other cases, most notably the Guatemala process which is now approaching its 9th year without a resolution.

‘The report finds significant barriers to Colombian workers exercising their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining although it failed to explicitly address the use of violence by Colombian security forces. As the report notes, bilateral discussions have been ongoing for many years. The costs of further delays have very real and unacceptably high consequences for Colombia’s workers, and we hope that both governments work towards swiftly and meaningfully improving access to justice.’