Posted: Dec 4th, 2010
Speech On U.S. Healthcare System From International Labor Conference
Don Bechler, speaking on U.S. Healthcare at an international labor conference held in Algiers, Algeria on November 28, 2010:
Thank you for inviting me to speak about the U.S. healthcare situation.
I am most honored.
I want to leave you with 4 ideas.
- The U.S. does not have a healthcare system.
- Recent legislation is a step away from a national healthcare system.
- Organized labor has not campaigned for a national healthcare system.
- There is a growing movement for a national healthcare system.
First, the U.S. does not have a healthcare system.
For 100 years, healthcare has been purchased from over 1200 private insurance companies. Some employers buy private health insurance for their employees. Some unions negotiate to have health insurance benefits purchased by their employer.
In the last 2 decades, healthcare has become the central issue in union negotiations. Union healthcare benefits have lessened in the last 2 decades.
The problem with private insurance companies is that they try to sell only to healthy people who will not use their services and at the same time the private insurance companies try to avoid sick people who need healthcare..
That is how insurance companies make money.
We do have a few government healthcare programs that provide limited healthcare to older or very poor Americans.
Because the U.S. has no national healthcare system, we suffer.
We spend twice as much money as any other nation on earth, yet we have 50 million people without health insurance.
Because 50 million people do not have health insurance, 50,000 people a year die unnecessarily.
We have a situation where different classes of people receive different classes of care.
Second, recent legislation passed by President Obama is a step away from winning a national healthcare system.
Instead of removing the 1200 private insurance companies from our lives, the Obama legislation passed in March, 2010 requires people to buy healthcare insurance from private companies. The private for profit insurance companies played a central role in writing the legislation. As I have said, the problem with private insurance companies, is that they try to avoid the sick and sell only to healthy people.
And there is no reason to think they will change their behavior.
The primary reason we have not moved towards a national healthcare system is the opposition of the private insurance companies.
Involving them in discussions on healthcare is like involving organized crime in a discussion on public safety.
Third, organized labor has not campaigned for a national healthcare system.
The U.S. labor movement is handicapped from advocating for working people because it is not independent from the two political parties that defend the interests of the wealthy.
U.S. labor places tremendous hope that the Democratic Party and President Obama will improve the situation of working people.
But this is false hope.
President Obama and the Democratic Party wanted to ban discussions on building a national healthcare system. They fought to make the private insurance companies richer.
I am from San Francisco, California. San Francisco is also the home of Democratic Party leader Nancy Pelosi. She was the speaker of the house of representatives when the healthcare discussions were happening. When we sent a delegation to speak with her about a national healthcare system, she had us arrested by Homeland Security.
President Obama has delivered us a mandate to buy private health insurance.
This is a step in the wrong direction.
Healthcare should be a human right — not something that corporations can make money from by avoiding sick people.
The Democratic Party and Obama do not believe that healthcare is a human right.
Unfortunately, the U.S. labor movement still places hope in the Democratic Party.
For us to be successful, it will be necessary for the labor movement to use their organizing capacity to campaign for a national healthcare system instead of organizing for the Democratic Party.
Lastly, there is a growing movement for a national health insurance system.
We often refer to our movement as a movement for single payer healthcare.
Single Payer simply means that we advocate for having one payer of medical bills instead of over 1200 different payers of healthcare bills.
Everyone would have comprehensive healthcare. Healthcare payments would be paid by the government.
In the United States we spend 2.8 trillion dollars a year on healthcare.
We know that by removing the private insurance industry from healthcare that we could save 400 billion dollars a year. This is money that could be spent for the public good and not for enriching the wealthy.
The activists in the single payer healthcare movement do not think of themselves as ideologically pro-capitalist or pro-socialist. But what everyone in our movement knows is that market mechanisms to make corporations wealthy take us in the wrong direction. Our healthcare movement is for a healthcare system that provides for the public good. Our movement knows that the privatization of healthcare is not the road to follow.
Everyday, I wake up knowing that I am working with healthcare activists who share the value of building a healthcare system that works for people.
We share the values that all human beings should be nurtured and loved.
Our healthcare movement is a movement of love, compassion, and hope.
Again, I am honored to be here today in the presence of activists who also share the value that human beings should be treated with compassion.