Activists Rally to Protect, Improve, Expand Medicare
Thousands of union members, seniors, and activists rallied across the country July 30 in a National Day of Action celebrating the 50th anniversary of Medicare, which provided health care for 50 million Americans last year, covering health care costs and stabilizing finances in households on fixed budgets.
Registered nurses affiliated with California Nurses Association led a march in Oakland with hundreds of union activists who joined the call to “protect, improve and expand” the Medicare program.
When President Lyndon Johnson signed the legislation 50 years ago, he said, “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.”
Registered nurses affiliated with National Nurses United joined actions in over 25 U.S. cities. At a rally in Oakland hundreds of union activists joined the call to “protect, improve and expand” the Medicare program. “RNs are celebrating the birthday of Medicare because it has a terrific track record of providing quality patient care to millions of elderly and disabled Americans,” said NNU Secretary-Treasurer Martha Kuhl, RN. “There are still far too many people who are uninsured and under insured, or priced out of access to needed care due to cost.” Kuhl pointed out that, “having health insurance doesn’t mean you get health care” and said health care should be a fundamental human right. “Medicare for all is the answer,” she said. “As nurses, we are committed to expanding and updating Medicare to cover everyone.”
The nurses’ union supports HR676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act, which would create a publicly financed, privately delivered health care system that improves and expands the already existing Medicare program to all U.S. residents, and all residents living in U.S. territories. NNU also backs HR 1200, the American Health Security Act of 2015, a state-based single-payer bill, introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott.
A NNU press release noted that, “despite passage of the Affordable Care Act, millions of residents continue to go without adequate care. Twenty-one states have refused to expand Medicaid coverage to eligible patients and members of Congress, such as U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, continue to push for reductions in Medicare with proposals to increase the eligibility age, eliminate providers and turn Medicare into a voucher program.” NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN, said, “Schemes to privatize or erode Medicare would be devastating for many, many people. The best way to protect Medicare is to upgrade it and expand it to cover everyone. It is time for this country to catch up with other nations and implement a universal system of guaranteed healthcare.”
At the Oakland rally, State Controller Betty Yee said a single payer system like Medicare is more efficient than private insurance companies. “Single payer only spends 3 percent on administrative costs, compared to the 20 to 40 percent that many private insurance companies spend on non-medical care costs,” she said. “We have to stand up to the insurance companies.”
California Labor Federation president Kathryn Lybarger
California Labor Federation president Kathryn Lybarger commented that, “There would be no Medicare without organized labor.” She said Medicare was enacted after a 30 year struggle after Social Security was won in the 1930s. “In 1957 the AFL put energy into pushing for universal health care and became the first massive organized opposition to the American Medical Association” which fought against universal health care.
Keyon Mitchell, from Physicians for a National Health Plan, linked Medicare to the struggle for civil rights and voting rights in the mid-1960s. Other speakers at the Oakland rally included United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, and former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement: “The AFL-CIO’s commitment to helping working people achieve a better life includes wholehearted support for Medicare, which helps seniors lead healthier, more financially secure, lives. Medicare provides essential healthcare to millions of Americans who have earned the right to live their golden years without fear that healthcare costs will wipe out everything they have worked so hard to achieve. We reject calls from Republicans in Congress who want to reduce services and increase costs. Rather than attacking Medicare, we should be working to strengthen and expand it.”
- Paul Burton
Hundreds of union members, seniors and health care advocates rallied in Oakland July 30 to call to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Medicare program.