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Clinton Democrats Claim To Support Health Care As A Right, But Oppose Universal Healthcare In Platform

A major nurses union condemned Democrats on the Democratic National Convention Platform Committee, who blocked an amendment in support of a single-payer health care system.

During proceedings in St. Louis on June 24, James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute introduced an amendment, which declared, “It is the policy of the Democratic Party that we will put people before profits by fighting for a Medicare For All single-payer health care system to guarantee health care as a right, not as a privilege, to everyone in this country. Working together, we will end the greed of health insurance companies.”

Zogby talked about his granddaughter, who has down syndrome and leukemia, and how it was important that the Affordable Care Act made it impossible for health insurance companies to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions. He also said much more needs to be done. “Parents shouldn’t have to worry about how to take care of their kids. People who are under fifty should have the same assurance of coverage that folks over fifty can have because of Medicare and Medicaid.”

The amendment was defeated by Democrats appointed to the committee by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton—American Federation of State, County, and Muncipal Employees executive assistant to the president, Paul Booth; former White House Energy and Climate Change Policy director and lobbyist for Albright Stonebridge Group, Carol Browner; Ohio State Representative Alicia Reece; former State Department official and lobbyist for Albright Stonebridge Group, Wendy Sherman; and Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden.

Former U.S. Representative Howard Berman and Bonnie Schaeffer, a CEO of Claire’s, a jewelry store aimed at young women, also voted against the amendment. They were appointed by Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Dr. James Zogby speaks at a meeting of the Democratic Platform Committee.

Dr. James Zogby speaks at a meeting of the Democratic Platform Committee.

All the people appointed by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders voted for the amendment: Dr. Cornel West; environmental activist and founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben; Deborah Parker, former chairman of the Tulalip Tribe (Washington State), Deborah Parker; Rep. Keith Ellison; and Zogby. Rep. Barbara Lee, appointed by Wasserman Schultz, voted in support of Medicare For All.

The message of those who voted against the amendment was that the government should focus on building on the Affordable Care Act and pursuing a Medicare For All system might somehow forsake a political accomplishment achieved by Democrats and President Barack Obama’s administration.

National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the United States, which has supported the Sanders campaign, told Shadowproof, “The Affordable Care Act, while an improvement, is not good enough, it is structurally deficient, leaves healthcare as a system based on profit and ability to pay rather than patient need.” It still means tens of millions of American have no “health coverage or ‘insurance'” because they cannot afford “high out of pocket costs.” Plus, the law has systemic problems which undermine quality of care, and it is easy for the health care industry to game the system.

As National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro declared in testimony submitted to the platform committee, “Inequity is hard-wired into the current healthcare system. We continue to see wide disparities in access, quality and cost based on gender, race, age, where you live, and what you can afford.”

“Instead of the systemic changes we need, we are increasingly expected to settle for transparency: more transparent information for consumers. That’s a market non-solution to a human problem. And it is not enough,” DeMoro added. “Patients are not consumers in a healthcare industry—or they shouldn’t be. Yet, the perverted system we have is really an industry based on maximizing revenue through increasing reimbursements to all sectors—corporate hospitals, insurance companies, medical device manufacturers and most of all, Big Pharma.”

The Democratic platform contains language endorsing the idea that health care is a human right, however, since Clinton Democrats and others appointed by Wasserman Schultz voted against the amendment, the Democratic Party is unwilling to fight for any meaningful mechanism that would make this idea a reality for Americans.

West argued, despite the “magnificent breakthrough of the Affordable Care Act, it’s not a right. It’s still a privilege if twenty-nine million fellow citizens do not have access to it.”

He likened what Democrats were saying to when women were told in 1918, when they wanted the right to vote. “Voting rights is a right but you don’t have it. Sorry about that, but it’s coming. It’s coming,” West added.

Tanden, Elijah Cummings, chair of the platform committee, and others explicitly praised Sanders for his leadership on the ACA. However, West objected, “When I hear the language of we thank Bernie Sanders for working so hard and doing so-so, that’s not ultimately what he’s after. He’s after our universal right [to health care] in the [same] way that voting rights are not market-based. And we’re not there yet, and we just voted against it.”

DeMoro said that the platform endorsing healthcare as a ‘right’ is “meaningless, little more than empty rhetoric, without a specific plan of how to make sure every American will have the guarantee of receiving the care they need, when and where they need it, without fear of going bankrupt or paying for care instead of other basics like housing or food.”

In her submitted testimony, DeMoro challenged this idea of health care as a human right being “just a ‘right’ to affordable healthcare,” as the Clinton campaign seems to view this concept.

“If a ‘right’ is conditioned, it is not a right. Besides, who decides what is ‘affordable?’ The multi-billion dollar drug companies, the insurers, the mega-hospital chains?” DeMoro asked.

What was evident during the deliberation over the Medicare For All amendment is Clinton Democrats were entirely unwilling to engage in substantive debate about what a single-payer health care system would mean for citizens. Instead, they aligned behind Tanden to push an amendment that reinforced the idea that health care is a right but diluted it by having no specific goals for how to fight for that right.

Tanden said she did not want to couch her comments against the amendment “in opposition because everyone in this room, every single person in this room has fought for health care as a right. We all fundamentally believe health care is a right. We all believe that we should put people before profits.”

“I’m looking at the amendment you’re going to propose, and it reminds me a lot of the same way we approached the environmental issues, which is we agree, it’s important, it’s got to be done, but any effort on our part as Democrats to define a way forward, i.e. Medicare For All in this instance or a single-payer plan, we won’t talk about,” Zogby argued.

Ellison highlighted the biggest problem with the ACA, which is the fact that it is based on a private for-profit health care system.

“The reality that we live in today is there is a 6.5% inflation projected for 2017 in medical inflation,” Ellison warned. “We don’t see the double-digit inflation we saw in the past, but we do not see the declines that we should and this is because we’re still tethered to this private insurance system, which I think creates a real problem. And, personally, I think this is a laudable goal for us because at the end of the day if medical inflation keeps going up it’s going to strengthen the hand of people who want to attack ACA.”

“I think if we’re not moving forward then we’re going to be moving back, and because we don’t have a public option, a single-payer goal, we are subject to whatever the private sector wants to do,” Ellison maintained.

According to DeMoro, the Clinton campaign has put forward a set of incremental reforms that will tinker with a system that sees sick and dying people as a commodity. Clinton proposes: “a tax credit for ‘ excessive out-of-pocket costs”; “limit family costs to 8.5% of income for premiums”; “allow family members on employer plans more easily”; “delivery system reform that rewards value & quality to reduce costs”; and “demand lower drug costs for working families and seniors.”

“None of these changes alleviate the primary concern of Americans that they cannot get the care they need. These market reforms only serve to strengthen the healthcare industry grip on our health rather than save patients’ lives,” DeMoro argued.

National Nurses United supports a set of measures that could meaningfully move the country closer to a society, where health care is a right. It supports “progressive taxation,” which would include a tax on Wall Street speculation, in order to “replace insurance premiums.” It supports eliminating profits, marketing costs, and waste.” It supports “strict budgets for hospitals, based on the actual cost of delivery of patient care.” It supports “negotiated fees and payments to providers,” and it supports an end to “co-pays, co-insurance, deductibles, out of network charges, or other surprise medical bills.”

Finally, Tanden suggested, “We should not accept the status quo,” and, “We should all of us work together to actually pass a public option,” in order to get to where health care is a right. But the nurses, who are the experts because they deal with this industry and sick people every single day, contend this will not do.

“Why would we believe that this insurance option, especially when it is overloaded with the older and sicker patients the private insurers avoid, will operate any differently?” DeMoro asked.

Like DeMoro told the committee when she gave testimony in Phoenix, “The healthcare industry is scamming the ACA. That really is what’s happening. So, even the intent is falling short because they’ve got rooms of accountants and all of the players in healthcare that are figuring out how to game the system.”

Center for a New American Security Chief Executive Officer Michèle Flournoy and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, June 20, 2016. (by Adrian Cadiz/Dept. Defense)
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."