Bolstered by the Census Bureau statistics released last week, organized labor last week joined the push for national healthcare reform, and warned the Bush administration that it is falling short of its job to provide insurance.
America isnt running the way it should. Healthcare costs are pushing people to the edge and now 47 million have no coverage, said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney at a news conference to announce a campaign to achieve universal health insurance by 2009.
Sweeney said the umbrella labor organization, with 10 million members and 3 million retirees, wants voters in the 2008 election to deliver a mandate on fixing the broken system.
While its not endorsing any specific plan or presidential candidate, the AFL-CIO said it would fight for reforms that would control rising costs, provide opportunities for preventive care and the right to choose ones own doctor, and is asking the government and employers to do their fair share to restore balance to the system.
Theres no separate budget for it, although the campaign will be incorporated into major activities of the AFL-CIO: public affairs, communications and advertising platforms, as well as its legislative outreach, state work and field operations, said Heather Booth, director of the AFL-CIOs new effort. Well be working through our union affiliates who will engage their membership on improving the healthcare system as well as employersdirectly and through bargaining, she said.
The first big push will come in early September, when union members will hold President Bush responsible for his failure to support reauthorization of the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, Sweeney said.
The Bush administration wasnt the only target at the news conference. Last year, the top five highest-paid healthcare CEOs earned almost $100 million, while the top five drug company CEOs took in over $135 milliona quarter-billion dollars in one year for 10 individuals, Booth said. As part of our healthcare campaign, during the 2008 shareholder season, the AFL-CIO will focus on engaging public companies over health insurance and extravagant CEO pay in the healthcare industry, Booth said.
Another of the campaigns charges is to recruit employers to support healthcare reform, as well as educating union members and their families on the importance of preserving healthcare benefits.
While its unclear what the campaigns impact will be on the 2008 elections and the larger battle to reduce the numbers of uninsured, there is some benefit in getting the message out about this problem, said Carmela Coyle, senior vice president of policy at the American Hospital Association. The more people who are out raising concerns about healthcare, the better, she said in an interview. All of us should be willing to look at needed changes and make those changes happen.