Health Care: Just Do It

The United States could provide comprehensive health care for every man, woman and child in our boundaries for the same amount of money as we now spend on the patchwork of private insurance and public health programs. So why are our national leaders proposing instead to spend the money on a Star Wars missile defense boondoggle while 44 million Americans are stranded without health care and at least as many more are underinsured and threatened with financial ruin in case of prolonged hospitalization?

Both major party candidates favor incremental approaches to closing the health care gap. Democrat Al Gore would expand the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to provide coverage to children at 250 percent of poverty ($41,000 for a family of four). He also would offer coverage to the parents of covered children and he would let middle-aged workers who lose their private insurance buy into Medicare -- if they have any money to buy in with.

Republican George W. Bush, who fought efforts to expand the federally funded children's insurance program to 200 percent of poverty in Texas last year, now proposes to give the working poor tax credits to help them buy private insurance, as if $2,000 a year would do much good for a family of four whose parents already are struggling to pay the rent.

Now the Labor Party has come up with a Just Health Care national insurance plan, which provides for a federally financed health care program. The party, which represents two million union members, challenges the presidential candidates to endorse it. By eliminating administrative waste and corporate profit, said Tony Mazzochi, national organizer of the Labor Party, the US could provide comprehensive health care to every resident for the same $1.2 trillion that we now spend on more or less health care. The Labor plan would keep most existing government revenues in place; raise taxes on the wealthiest 5 percent of taxpayers; impose a payroll tax of 3.03 percent on all employers (presenting a windfall for employers who now provide health care for their employees); and tax stock and bond transactions while closing corporate tax shelter loopholes. A briefing paper detailing the Just Health Care financing plan is available by calling 202-234-5190.

States Fill Health Care Vacuum

With health care reform looking like a dormant issue in Congress for the foreseeable future, states are moving to fill the vacuum. A coalition of doctors, nurses, senior citizens' groups, labor unions and others are finishing a petition drive to place a sweeping health care referendum on the Massachusetts ballot this fall. The referendum would require the Legislature to find a way to provide health insurance coverage for all residents by mid-2002 in a state where more than 600,000 people lack it. It would also introduce a patients' bill of rights that would guarantee patients the freedom to choose their doctors and guarantee doctors the freedom to choose the right treatment for their patients. It also would put a temporary ban on the conversion of nonprofit hospitals to for-profit hospitals.

Similar initiatives are in the works elsewhere, the New York Times reported June 10: Advocates in Washington State are close to getting a measure calling for universal health care onto the state ballot for this fall. A campaign for universal health care is underway in Oregon, but it is not expected to get on the ballot until November 2002. There is a political push for universal health care in Maryland, though it involves no referendum this year. In other states -- Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Montana -- campaigns backing narrower health care proposals, like requiring tobacco settlement money to go toward health, are using ballot initiatives as well.

"What is happening is an enormous backlash by the public," the Times quoted Dr. Bernard Lown, a Nobel prize laureate and a leader of the Massachusetts initiative drive. A push to overhaul the health care system, he said, "has to come from below, from the state level; you're closer to the people, you're closer to their pain, and they're more readily mobilized." His Coalition for Health Care is already opposed by the Committee for Affordable Health Care Choices, which unites business associations, managed care organizations and other insurers. For more information on state initiatives for universal health care, contact the Universal Health Care Action Network (UHCAN), phone 800-634-4442; web site: (www.uhcan.org).

Sneak Attack on Bill of Rights

The Senate has passed a bill that would authorize federal agents to enter people's homes and remove evidence such as computer databases without telling the owner until months later. The Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act (S. 486) would also allow federal agents, without the formality of a court order, to censor web sites that promote drug use. The bill is supposed to help government and police limit the manufacture and sale of methamphetamines, but it also would also challenge the rights of free speech, privacy and due process as well as the protection against unreasonable search and seizure, critics say. This little package, sponsored by Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., slipped through the Senate with no debate in January under the guidance of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Also known as HR 2987, the bill is now in a House Judiciary subcommittee.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the bill represents a virtual wish list for the Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies, with provisions for police to conduct "black bag" secret searches of private homes and businesses that were solidly rejected when offered as stand-alone legislation. The bill also would create new federal drug offenses, ignoring calls to halt the federalization of crime from across the political spectrum.

Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, is leading the fight against this bill in the House. Barr told the Asheville, N.C., Tribune that the search and seizure provisions were snuck into the bill and "have nothing to do with methamphetamines." Had the search and seizure provision been introduced as a separate bill, he said, its chances for passage "would be very, very problematic."

Many congressmen are inclined to vote for any bill that fights drugs, finding it easier to let the Supreme Court disable the blatantly unconstitutional provisions rather than be branded "soft on drugs." Please contact your rep to reinforce his or her backbone regarding this latest affront to the Bill of Rights.

Conservative Think Tanks Inform Media

Refuting the myth of the liberal news media, a study of newspaper, radio and TV citations released June 9 found that conservative think tanks and the centrist Brookings Institution dominated much of the national media debate last year. The joint study -- conducted by sociologist Michael Dolny for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) and the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) -- found that in 1999, right-leaning and conservative think tanks accounted for 46 percent of media citations, while centrist think tanks accounted for 45 percent. Progressive or left-leaning ones received only 9 percent. In comparison, in 1997, Dolny found that conservative or right-leaning think tanks received 53 percent of all citations, while 16 percent of the citations went to progressive or left-leaning think tanks. Progressive think tanks had a decrease not only in their percentage but also in their actual number of citations. The most cited progressive or left-leaning think tanks in 1999 were the Urban Institute (712 cites) and the Economic Policy Institute (506 cites), which came in ninth and tenth. The study, published in the current issue of FAIR's magazine Extra!, is available at: (www.fair.org). -- JMC

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