US workers demand health care for all

SEIU marching for ‘Healthcare for all’ in Oakland California
SEIU marching for ‘Healthcare for all’ in Oakland California

RALLIES will take place across the United States on Tuesday, August 22, demanding action to tackle the country’s health care crisis.

America has a system of private health insurance.

Urging workers to join Tuesday’s rallies, organisers of the ‘Americans for Health Care’ campaign say: ‘Nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured.

‘At least 18,000 people die each year because they don’t have health insurance.

‘We may not see a chalk outline at a crime scene for those Americans who die because they lack insurance, but it’s just as criminal.

‘Chalk it up to inaction or misplaced priorities, but now is the time for our leaders to draw a new conclusion about our nation’s health care crisis.

‘Join thousands of Health Care Voters at coordinated rallies across the country on August 22! Find out what’s going on in your state.’

Barbara Woodward, from Epping, in New Hampshire, is one of those backing the National Day of Action.

She told the ‘Chalk It Up!’ website: ‘I haven’t had health insurance for the last five years.

‘In 2001, my husband William was injured on the job and we gained custody of our 10-year-old grandson.

‘While William became eligible for Medicare, we struggled to make COBRA payments so I could have health insurance as well.

‘We just couldn’t keep up with the payments and we had to drop it.

‘I was very reluctant to do that because my job working in a doctor’s office didn’t include any kind of health care benefit.

‘As our grandson got older, he required more attention from us.

‘He was getting into adolescence and needed more supervision to keep him out of trouble.

‘So, I had to retire from my job in order to be more involved.

‘At that time, we were the only guardians he had.

‘I was relatively healthy until July 2005, when doctors discovered that a tumour was developing in my throat.

‘I had trouble swallowing, sleeping at night, and even just breathing normally.

‘My throat was swollen and I had earaches and headaches from the pressure.

‘During the next two months, I researched what kind of financial help was available to me.

‘In September 2005 I was eligible to take advantage of Sea Care, a local non-profit organisation that assists with helping the uninsured gain access to medical care.

‘Then, with this coverage I visited an ear, nose and throat specialist.

‘At the specialist’s office, I was treated like a second-class citizen.

‘Because I was receiving care at a reduced cost, I was made to feel as if I was using them or something.

‘The specialist sent me to a hospital to get an ultrasound.

‘The folks at the hospital made it clear that I wasn’t getting the ultrasound for free.

‘So again, I spent some time reviewing my options.

‘After lots of paperwork and negotiating with the hospital, it turned out that I was indeed eligible to have the cost of my ultrasound covered.

‘By this time, another month had gone by and the tumour was continuing to grow.

‘It was late October when I was officially referred to a surgeon.

‘I really credit the hospital with finding me a surgeon who was going to charge a reasonable price.

‘They went to bat for me. The surgeon assured me that he was not looking to make a profit and that the cost was simply to cover the operation.

‘Still, it would cost me $1500 out of pocket.

‘At the time I was quoted the price, I didn’t have the money available to me, so we had to schedule the surgery for January.

‘As the weeks went by, the tumour continued to grow.

‘Some medical professionals suggested that I wait until I became eligible for Medicaid in September 2006 before having the operation.

‘I didn’t want to delay the surgery any longer than was absolutely necessary.

‘It was getting worse and worse.

‘Because it affected my breathing and my eating, I was worried that I would need medical attention in advance of the surgery.

‘I was told that if I had a problem at anytime before the surgery, I would just have to go to the emergency room.

‘That would have meant more money out of pocket and I was hoping to avoid that.

‘The weeks leading up to my surgery were stressful times.

‘I was uncomfortable all the time. I was nervous about the surgery.

‘I was working with Sea Care, doing my own accounting, and negotiating to cover the costs associated with anaesthesia, radiology, and blood work.

‘In January 2006 I had the tumour successfully removed.

‘Fortunately, the surgery went very well. The surgeon said it was the largest tumour he had ever removed and I was lucky it worked out well for me.

‘I took quite a few things away from the experience.

‘I’ll never forget how the staff at the specialists’ office treated me.

‘No one should be made to feel like less of a human being because they take advantage of free or reduced care.

‘These days, I’m concerned that other people who are worse off than me won’t be so lucky, and it makes me feel awful.

‘Something needs to be done so that everyone can get the care they need, whether they have insurance or not.’

• The health care crisis has prompted janitors and their local community allies to take action in Texas.

After joining the SEIU trade union last year, 5,300 janitors in Houston are fighting for a contract that will boost their wages above poverty level and give them access to health care.

More than a million people in the Houston area are without health insurance.

In the past several months, community forums have shared stories of how living without health insurance has affected their families, resolving to work together to tackle the situation.

• In Minnesota, 3,000 hospital workers are themselves struggling to afford the rising cost of health insurance.

Local leaders are rallying to the side of the workers, members of SEIU Local 113, in their fight for a contract with their hospital employers that will provide affordable coverage.

• In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom has signed into law health care legislation, billed as the first of its kind in the US.

The San Francisco Health Access Plan (SF HAP) will offer preventive, primary and emergency care by hospitals and community health clinics.

It will cover those individuals who earn too much money to qualify for health care under ‘Medi-Cal’, California’s public health insurance for the poor.

The legislation will be financed through a combination of tax dollars, local business contributions and individual premiums.

It will be phased in from July 2007, with 15,000 people at a time joining the scheme in the first three months.

Businesses with fewer than 20 employees are exempt from the plan.

Urging voters to back the new scheme, Mayor Newsom pledged to ‘make sure we do not over-promise and under-deliver.’

Just like the rest of America, big numbers of Latinos and African Americans in San Francisco have no access to health care.

The one other major drawback of the SF HAP is that because it is not insurance, it will not cover enrollees who get sick outside the city.

Meanwhile, private health insurers are reported to be aggressively marketing medical policies with ‘high deductibles’.

Nationally, almost six million Americans now have ‘consumer-driven plans’ with high deductibles, according to the US Government Accountability Office.