Band-Aid or bust?
Nurses, assemblyman weigh in on Obamacare
As Rush Limbaugh presumably priced moving vans—he’d said he’d leave the country if Obamacare passed muster with the Supreme Court—and President Obama celebrated in Washington, North State politicos likewise were polarized by the court’s decision last Thursday (June 28) to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The 5-4 decision, which was focused on the constitutionality of imposing a penalty on those who do not buy insurance, was made possible when conservative Chief Justice John Roberts unexpectedly decided to side with liberal judges.
The announcement coincided with the annual California Nurses Association’s Chico stop on its 2012 California tour, a 19-city bus trek in which the nurses offer free health screenings, host town hall meetings and tout the advantages of universal health care.
Event organizers and local single-payer health-care-reform advocates held a 4:30 p.m. press conference on the steps of the City Council chambers to announce their reaction to the Supreme Court ruling. On the same day, Assemblyman Dan Logue decried the court’s decision and announced his intention to battle the implementation of Obamacare in California.
“I think we can agree unanimously that the decision was a surprise, and the biggest surprise was that [Chief Justice] John Roberts somehow found the courage to do the right thing,” said Forest Harlan, president of Butte County Health Care Coalition and spokesman for the North State Health Care Alliance.
While the NSHCA and its constituent organizations support universal health care, their reaction to the decision was not all positive.
“We’re here to say hurray for the short term,” Harlan said, “but also to say that the health needs of Americans are not going to be met, because we’re keeping profit in a system where profit is directly oppositional to universal health care. This is not a step toward universal health care; it’s a step toward some people getting some health care.”
Harlan asked people to remember that the bill is more than 2,000 pages long.
“I don’t think there’s an American alive who’s actually read the entire health-care bill,” Harlan said. “Not even [the people] who wrote the darned thing.”
He noted that independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ health bill was only 25 pages long.
“We don’t want to rain on the parade of those who worked hard for the Affordable Care Act, but we want to encourage them in joining us to continue the work for real, truly universal health care,” he said. “This would be a boost to the country’s sagging economy if we had the economic stimulus of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system.”
Other speakers, including representatives of the California Health Professional Student Alliance, California Nurses Association, the Butte-Glenn Central Labor Council, the Democratic Action Club of Chico, and the Butte County League of Women Voters, echoed Harlan’s sentiment that the Affordable Care Act is a start, but not enough.
Frank Smith, a consumer and board member of Independent Living Services of Northern California, gave an impassioned address based on his experiences with the health-care system.
“People with disabilities are already unable to get the medicine and care they need,” he said. “I know many people who can’t get what they need because they’re stuck by regulations and fragmentations in the system. I know two people who have passed away because they didn’t get the care they needed. One was a heart patient who could not get medicine, and he passed away.”
David Welch, an Enloe Medical Center nurse traveling with the California Nurses Association, said, “There’s still a lot of work to do. Most of us can agree that upholding the Affordable Care Act was better than not upholding it, but we can also agree there’s a great deal left to be done.
“Despite the fact it does some good things, it still leaves us with the most expensive and inefficient health-care system in the developed word, still leaves us with too many people who are not covered and too many people who have insurance but still don’t have access to real care.”
North State Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Marysville) wasted no time responding to the ruling, issuing a press release that said he may author a ballot measure to stop the implementation of Obamacare in California. Logue has already written a resolution urging Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with “free-market” reforms.
“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court punishes American families and workers by upholding the individual mandate as a ‘tax’ under the Constitution,” Logue said in the release, “but it also leaves it up to the states to decide whether to participate in the massive expansion of Medicaid. The result is that California may again be the only state in the region to attempt a massive new government program, while our neighbors stand by and watch us struggle under the multi-billion dollar cost.”
He said that the state Legislature has already passed most of the laws needed to implement the health plan here, “including the creation of a new Health Benefit Exchange bureaucracy and new mandates on private health insurers, and the remaining pieces are in the works.”
At the CNA’s town hall meeting, National Nurses United member Donna Smith, who was featured in the Michael Moore film Sicko, gave a rundown of what the ACA does and doesn’t accomplish, peppering her talk with statistics on how poorly American health-care measures compare to those of other countries.
Smith said the ACA’s positive points are that it disallows insurance companies from denying clients because of pre-existing conditions and allows children to be covered by their parents’ insurance until age 26. She also said it expands coverage for some and lifts lifetime caps on benefits.
On the other hand, Smith said, the ACA doesn’t allow choice of providers, doesn’t control escalating medical costs and doesn’t stop insurance companies from profiting on sick people. Though it does mandate 80 percent of money collected by insurance companies go to health care, she said 20 percent profit is still too much, and insurance companies are already finding ways to exploit what is and isn’t classified as health care.
Most important, she said, the ACA leaves 23 million Americans uninsured.
“There’s nothing universal about it. The working poor will be hit the hardest because they don’t qualify for subsidies from the government, but can only afford bare-bones coverage, which they likely won’t be able to use. What good is a plan with a huge deductible that you still can’t afford to pay?”
Smith said cuts are always threatened against Social Security, Medicare and those things “working people worked hard to achieve.” She touted a proposed Robin Hood Tax championed by the nurses’ unions that would charge a half-penny-per-dollar tax on every Wall Street financial transaction and generate $350 billion to be used for health care and other social programs.
“If you want to heal America,” she said, “tax Wall Street. The people who broke it should pay for it.”