Tag Archives: National Nurses Organizing Committee

National Union of RNs is Founded!

Below David Welch, an RN from Chico California, gives his first-person account of traveling to Phoenix for the historic duty of founding the nation’s first union of, by, and for RNs.

You can read a good Reuters overview here and see the release here.

This is obviously a great day for labor, as we have a progressive/rapidly-growing/important new union in a key industry and social issue.  Also a great day for California nurses who will be able to take their efforts national…

On to David…

I’m writing from Phoenix Arizona where I just spent the morning with hundreds of nurses from around the country  finalizing the creation of the new nurses union that will transform health care in America: National Nurses United.  Nurses and leaders from The California Nurses Assn./National Nurses Organizing Committee, the United American Nurses and the Massachusetts Nurses Assn are meeting to create a new union that will stretch from coast to coast and unite 150,000 nurses into a powerful force for our profession and our patients.

At the opening reception last night the excitement was palpable as nurses from many states shared their happiness at the step we were about to take.  Here are just a few quotes:

From Jean Ross of the UAN and now co-president of the new NNU:

This is where we need to be, together as one, moving across the country.  some of us have been waiting our whole careers for this

From Karen Higgins of the Massachusetts Nurses Associaton and another new co-president:

This is a dream come true for all of us.  I believe staff nurses are the voice for patients and nurses across this country.

From Deborah Burger of CNA/NNOC and the third co-president:

We have got our work cut out for us when this convention is over, to make sure we organize evry single direct care RN in this country.  RNs and our patients deserve to have a national nurses movement that can advocate for them.  

We still have a long way to go before we can bring all nurses into a single organization and a single political force, but today we took the first giant step in that direction.  Today we brought 150,000 nurses under one organizational umbrella with a single goal and philosophy: National Nurses United.

The business meeting this morning became more of a festival as the delegates from across the country voted unanimously to establish our constitution, confirm our officers and declare the existence of our new organization.  We had the thrilling experience of hearing from one of the greatest speakers in the American Labor movement: Stewart Acuff of the AFL/CIO.  Stewart’s speaking style comes out of the great tradition of southern church oratory and he outdid himself today.  He had that room full of nurses on our feet over and over, chanting, roaring approval and often with tears in our eyes.  He exhorted us to set our sights high – not only to organizing nurses for collective bargaining, but to pass the Employee Free Choice Act:

The greatest economic stimulus would to be restore to the working men and women of America the right to bargain collectively for their fair share of the fruits of their labor

And to continue to work for real health care reform:

so that access to quality health care is a human right, not an investment opportunity for the rich

After Stewart, our neighbors to the north, in the person of Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses, also came to show their support and offer their help.  Linda is a great speaker in any normal company, but had the unenviable task of following Stewart.  She rose to the occasion and left us on our feet and dancing.

And tonight, we’ll finish the night with a great party.  Tomorrow, setting the tone for the new organization, we will be demonstrating outside the Arizona Hospital Association.  We’re serving notice to our employers that we are here with new force, new strength, new energy and that we will be spreading out across America in the weeks and months to come, organizing thousands of nurses with the very clear goal of transforming healthcare in America.

We nurses know as well as anyone that whatever is passed in the next few weeks in Washington is not going to be the final answer to America’s healthcare crisis.  At best, it will make some improvements and be a step on the road.  The overriding goal of our new organization is to reach the day when every patient has equal access to quality care, every nurse can advocate for their patients’ needs without fear and American health care is controlled by care givers, not bean counters.

So…What about single-payer and SB 810?

( – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Does passage of a bill that funnels millions of additional Americans into the private insurance system, and the decision of House leaders to shut down debate on one single payer amendment and scuttle another, mean the end of the years of efforts by single payer activists to win the most comprehensive reform of all?

Does it mean the end of SB 810, even once Governor Schwarzenegger has wandered off the stage?

For the nation’s nurses and the many grassroots activists, the answer is clearly no.  And we’ve got work to do.

In discussions and organizing, now occurring coast to coast, including a strategy conference this weekend in St. Louis hosted by Healthcare-NOW, many are charting a new course that turns next to the U.S. Senate, to the Senate-House Conference Committee, and then to state capitols from Sacramento to Harrisburg where vibrant single payer movements and campaigns continue to grow.

Most single payer advocates acknowledge some important reforms in the House bill, especially the expansion of Medicaid to millions of low income adults, increased regulation of the insurance industry, expanded public health funding for community programs for low income families, and a more progressive tax plan than the onerous tax on middle income health benefits proposed in the Senate.

But those who dismiss the weaknesses, coupled with the overhyped rhetoric comparing the bill to the civil rights legislation of the 1960s or passage of Social Security and Medicare, should be wary of the backlash when millions of Americans continue to face health insecurity and potential bankruptcy as their healthcare costs rise largely unabated and continue to experience denials of medical treatment insurance companies don’t want to pay for.  

As California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro has written

Social Security and Medicare were both federal programs guaranteeing respectively pensions and health care for our nation’s seniors, paid for and administered by the federal government with public oversight and public accountability

By contrast, the main provision of the House bill, and its Senate counterpart, is to expand health care coverage by requiring everyone to “have insurance” — mostly buying private insurance (since the public option is open to so few). Ultimately whether some want to admit it or not, a massive bailout worth tens of billions of dollars to the insurance industry.

Further, while Social Security and Medicare were both significant expansions of public protection, the House bill actually reduces public protection for a substantial segment of the population, women, with its unconscionable rollback of reproductive rights in the anti-abortion amendment.

To that end, tempering some of the triumphalism would be advisable. Equally unfathomable is the threat by some liberal groups to target single payer proponents Dennis Kucinich and Eric Massa who voted against the anti-choice amendment as well as the full bill. (Massa, in particular, was elected with active support from the single payer community and took a principled stand in a swing district.)

Those who start down this road would do well to remember the nurses, physicians, and thousands of single payer grassroots activists who have carried the flame of genuine healthcare reform for years, and will certainly continue to make their voices heard, especially as employers continue to shift skyrocketing healthcare costs to workers and out-of-pocket costs eat up, by some accounts, 15 percent to 19 percent of family incomes.  

One of those suggesting that work must continue, even prior to the vote, was House Whip James Clyburn who told the Associated Press November 5:  

“I didn’t want anyone to think that if you don’t get everything you want in this health care bill right now, that’s the end of the game. What we need to do is lay a foundation. Get passed what we can pass that will have a meaningful impact on people’s lives – not put too many of our people in jeopardy – and then build upon it later. It’s a long road.”

For single payer proponents, the construction on that long road begins in the Senate now where Sen. Bernie Sanders plans to introduce single payer language. As he said on Vermont Public Radio this week:

“I believe that a single payer system is the most effective way to provide comprehensive, universal, cost-effective health care. … (Without single payer) that ain’t going to happen. The health insurance industry and the drug companies are too powerful.”

Sanders is also proposing a federal exemption of legal barriers for states that opt to establish single payer systems, similar to the Kucinich amendment that was stripped out of the House bill by House leaders in the hours leading up to its final vote.

The reason for the amendment, Sanders notes:

“So that if states like Vermont or California or Pennsylvania – states that are strong in a single payer movement – want to move in that direction that they will be able to do so. And I think … what you will probably end up seeing is we will move toward a Medicare for all program when one state does it and does it well. And other states say, ‘You know what? That looks like the most cost effective, fairest way to provide quality care to all people.'”

You can help. Contact your Senator, (202) 224-312, and urge them to join Sanders in supporting this important amendment. That’s what a lot of us will be working on next.

16,000 CNA Nurses to Strike 39 Hospitals for Patient Safety

16,000 Registered Nurses at 39 Catholic Health systems hospitals across California will strike this October 30th  in an urgent bid to improve patient safety standards at their facilities, especially as the swine flu comes barreling down upon us.

This strike marks a continuation of a months-long effort by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) to raise alarms about inadequate H1N1 hospital safeguards, and patient sfety in general.  

In August, CNA/NNOC releaseda major report of a survey of 190 U.S. hospitals where RNs cited widespread problems with poor segregation of patients, lack of sufficient N95 masks, numerous hospitals where nurses have been infected, inadequate training for hospital staff, and punitive sick leave policies.

In particular, the RNs say, many hospitals continue to do a poor job at isolating patients with H1N1 symptoms and other steps to limit contagion, or provide sufficient fit-tested N95 respirators and other protective gear for healthcare workers and patients.

“Our hospital isn’t being proactive in preparing for the expected onslaught of H1N1 infected patients,” said Kathy Dennis, RN at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento.  “We can’t get enough N95 masks, patients are not being properly isolated, and RNs are not being kept informed of the latest guidelines.  Last time I worked, It took me more than four hours to get masks when we ran out we ran out.  We must put the proper precautions in place now before flu seasons peaks or we will all be in serious trouble.”  

CNA/NNOC wants hospitals to formally adopt all CDC and Cal-OSHA guidelines to make them enforceable by CNA/NNOC contract provisions assuring the highest safety measures are met, are uniform, and consistently applied throughout the systems.

Another nurse put the problems this way: “When nurses are exposed to tuberculosis, the hospital notifies us. When nurses are exposed to head lice the hospital notifies us. Why then are we not told when we are exposed to H1N1? All staff have the right to know if they have been exposed in order to keep our patients from further unnecessary exposure,” said Carol Koelle, RN at St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino.

The Wall St. Journal reports:

The union decided to strike after “an onslaught” of patients admitted to hospitals made negotiations more urgent, said Jill Furillo, who heads union bargaining with Catholic medical facilities. She said the union was mainly striking over safety issues: “This is not really about money.”

The union is asking the health-care systems to create a monitor position to ensure that staffing ratios comply with California state mandates. The union also said it wants hospitals to stop a practice called “floating,” in which nurses are assigned to areas outside of their expertise, such as an emergency-room nurse being assigned to labor and delivery.

A union official also said a few hospitals are seeking salary freezes, which the union is fighting, and some hospitals have proposed increasing employee payments for health insurance.

The LA Times adds:

Nurses have been demanding more protection from the H1N1 flu all summer, an association spokesman said, but became increasingly concerned after a nurse died in July. Karen Ann Hays, 51, a cancer nurse at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Sacramento, died July 17 of a severe respiratory infection, pneumonia and H1N1. Hospital officials could not confirm whether Hays, a triathlete and marathon runner, became ill at work.

While nurses have made a major focus on passing the Employee Free Choice Act, and removing the barriers that most RNs face in joining a union, this effort shows the power that a revitalized labor movement can have even before labor laws are-finally-reformed.

The responses by the hospitals to this strike should serve to make very clear why nurses had to take this difficult and brave step.  Their responses are: 1. Blame the messenger, 2. Deny patients need RN care, and 3. Cry poor.  All of which should serve to put both patients and nurses on notice that these facilities are in full denial mode.  More specifically:

1. The California Hospital Association spokesperson was trotted out to attack the nurses for daring talk about patient safety:

Jan Emerson, a spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association, said the union was “grandstanding” by raising the respirator issue.

2. A local spokesperson was charged with assuring patients that they don’t really need Registered Nurses:

Tobey Robertson, spokeswoman for Community Hospital of San Bernardino, said the hospital will take into account skill levels needed on the day of strike.   “You don’t always need RNs to replace RNs. It depends on the level of care,” she said.

3. Finally, patients were told by another local hospital spokesperson that they can’t afford safe care:

“Given the current economic environment and the challenges CHW faces, the CNA’s demands, if agreed to, would add to the ballooning cost of providing care and threaten our ability to meet our community’s needs,” the statement said.

1,200 Registered Nurses Celebrate Coming “SuperUnion,” Push Obama for Stronger Health Proposals

Far and away the most exciting industry for the labor movement today is healthcare-and the air of historic change was in the San Francisco air this week as more than 1,200 registered nurses from across the country gathered to plan their coming merger…and to advance their patient advocate’s agenda of guaranteed healthcare on the single-payer model and of genuine labor law changes to allow every nurse to freely choose her union.  The RNs are members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, and their guests from United American Nurses and Massachusetts Nurses Association.

The 1,200 nurses broke from their meeting to make a special house call to Dianne Feinstein, and deliver roses along with hand-written pleas for her to support the Employee Free Choice Act.  She’s in DC, but we’re sure she’ll get the message that we expect her to help nurses join unions and save lives.  That change alone will significantly improve our healthcare system.



In These Times reports on the coming RN SuperUnion and how registered nurses, together with the muscle of the AFL-CIO, will have the ability to inject a humane and pro-patient politics into our policy:

While lawmakers bicker and the public wades through a muddle of misinformation, the major nurses unions, particularly the California Nurses Association (CNA), are staking out bold positions on reform. Their efforts have culminated in a new union merger that seeks to align progressive nurses with other service workers as well as healthcare consumers.

As a critical link between physicians and patients, nurses occupy a pivot point in the reform debate. Alongside bread-and-butter campaigns on pandemic-flu preparedness and nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, the CNA has taken on universal healthcare as a labor issue, arguing that single-payer would not only serve patients’ best interest, but also make the entire system more economically viable.

The Wall St. Journal writes up how these pro-patient policies lead to nurses pushing Obama for better healthcare proposals:

At a conference for registered nurses in San Francisco, Geri Jenkins watched President Barack Obama’s televised speech with several others from the California Nurses Association. After the speech ended, the knot of nurses was left disappointed.

“You have to give him credit for standing up and trying to tackle the problem,” Jenkins said after it was over. “But it just needed to go a step further.”

Jenkins would have liked to see Obama’s plan place greater restrictions on how much insurance companies can charge consumers. Her 29-year-old stepdaughter, who was born with a heart condition, has gone without health insurance for a year because she could no longer afford the $7,000 annual catastrophic coverage.

Other nurses also felt the president’s proposals did not go far enough.

The San Francisco Chronicle let CNA/NNOC executive director sum it up:

“The problem with other solutions like the public option is that they leave in place the real problem: The insurance companies,” DeMoro told us.  

As the Washington Independent reports, those insurance companies are the subject of a new investigation by California Attorney General (and future and past Governor) Jerry Brown, after CNA/NNOC uncovered data that they reject on average 22 percent of all claims-and that jumps to 40 percent for the worst company, PacifiCare.

While the Christian Science Monitor notes the ongoing viability of the single-payer reforms nurses are dedicated to…it’s popular in the states and HR 3200 contains an amendment to empower states to that kind of experimentation:

The California Nurses Association was also instrumental in lobbying for an amendment, added by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) of Ohio to a House version of the federal healthcare reform bill, that would remove potential legal impediments for states to pass single-payer bills by waiving federal exemptions that apply to employer-sponsored health plans from the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)…. There are also strong prospects for single-payer healthcare in California, where the legislature has twice passed single-payer, only to have it vetoed both times by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Next week, we’ll be taking the fun to Pittsburgh where we will host the U.S. premiere of Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story at the national AFL-CIO convention, and use the occasion to throw a huge single-payer party

Check out more pix here.

1200 RNs Make House Call on Sen. Feinstein–Weds, 1:00 p.m.

You would think that Sen. Feinstein would be a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, wouldn’t you?

Representing this state, coming from her city, in light of the broken union election system we face and the heartbreak it inflicts on American workers…she should.

RNs are especially invested in the Employee Free Choice Act because unionized nurses save lives, and because hospital owners are some of the most vicious, unethical, and criminal union-busters out there.

So tomorrow, 1200 RNs will make a house call to Sen. Feinstein’s house, demanding that she cosponsor this life-saving, long-overdue legislation. They’ll leave a rose with a personalized note explaining their story of how being a unionized RN has changed their life…or saved someone else’s.

Deborah Burger, RN, co-President of CNA  says:

“In the past, Senator Feinstein has said she supported the bill, but appears to be wavering.  1,200 RNs are making this house call to let her know that employers are trying to silence us when we advocate in facilities, and that patients end up paying the price for this union-busting.  Employers are breaking the law in their harassment of nurses, and we deserve a free choice and a fair chance to speak up for ourselves.”

Trade unionists and supporters are invited to attend:

WHAT: 1,200 RNs leave roses and notes demanding

          Sen. Feinstein sponsor labor law reform

WHERE: Senator Feinstein’s residence

            2460 Lyon Street in San Francisco

WHEN: Wednesday, September 9 at 1:00 p.m.

FOLLOWED BY: Nurses rally outside Feinstein’s office

                       One Post St., at 2:00 p.m.

Sick Around the World, the book, a reminder of what Washington wants to forget

As our favorite politicos fall all over each other to see who can further erode the healthcare package likely to emerge from Congress, it’s worth recalling that there is another way.

But first, get a glimpse of the latest fiasco moving forward in the Senate Finance Committee, where Max Baucus is leading the charge to develop the all important “bi-partisan” reform bill.

Today’s news is that “everyone’s smiling” — says Kent Conrad, author of the embarrassingly weak proposal for “non-profit coops” as an alternative to the public option, much less the real reform, single payer.

Why? Because they’ve found a way to cut the price tag by $400 billion. How?

largely by reducing the amount of subsidies for low-income individuals to buy insurance

Well, thank goodness. At least that means less public money going into the pockets of the already gorged insurance giants.

Too bad it means more people are likely to go bankrupt or self-ration needed care when Congress passes a bill forcing everyone to buy insurance with no meaningful limits on what the private insurers can charge.

Is there another route? Yes, and it’s not a secret.

The rest of the world has figured it out, as T.R. Reid reminds us in the forthcoming publication of “The Healing of America. A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care.” (Penguin Press) Essentially it’s the print version of the acclaimed Sick Around the World PBS show from last year.

By now, most people have heard how the U.S. ranked just 37th in the World Health Organization’s overall scorecard earlier this decade. Or how the Commonwealth Fund listed the U.S. last year as last among 19 industrial nations in preventable deaths.

But how about this one.

When the WHO assessed 191 countries on the barometer of “fairness,” the U.S. stumbled in at a bare 54th, barely beating out the impoverished African nations of Chad and Rwanda, but still behind Bangladesh and the Maldives. Not exactly a badge of honor.

Can we do better? Of course we can, says Reid, just by learning from the experiences of the rest of the world, especially those other comparable industrial nations which all have some form of national healthcare system — one in which their citizens’ health is not held hostage by profit-making private insurance companies. He concludes:

most rich countries have been national health statistics — longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, better recovery rates from major diseases” than does the U.S. And they also perform better in presenting patients “a greater choice of doctors, hospitals, and procedures

For those who say we should not taint our borders by emulating France or Germany or Canada, Reid offers this retort:

We have borrowed numerous foreign innovations that have become staples of American daily life: public broadcasting, text messaging, pizza, sushi, yoga, reality TV, The Office, and even American Idol

Apparently we consider our health to be less important.

Reid also provides a useful service in knocking down most of the myths about other national systems that are common grist for the likes of Fox TV and the conservative think tanks.

Such as “they ration care with waiting list and limited choices;” in fact the data varies widely among other countries, and if you want to see really hideous waits, rationing of care, and limited choices, check out most American ERs and insurance network restrictions.

If there’s one crucial difference between the U.S. and all the other countries he surveyed, says Reid, it’s the moral dimension.

Whether a society should guarantee health care, the way we guarantee the right to think and pray as you like, to get an education, to vote in free elections? Or is medicine a commodity to be bought and sold, a product like a car, a computer, or a camera?

Apparently that is what makes our system “uniquely American.” As Reid puts it, “all the developed countries except the United States have decided that every human has a basic right to health care.”

And, that “no other country relies on for-profit insurance companies to pay for basic health care.”

President Obama who in 2003 notably described himself as a single payer advocate, now says it would be too disruptive to the present system to do that now. Well, a lot of people believe our dysfunctional, profit-focused healthcare system needs some good disruption.

And, there’s plenty of examples abroad that you can remake your healthcare system, and make it better, as a number of industrial countries did in the wreckage after World War II.

There’s a more recent example, Taiwan, which in 1994 scrapped its own broken system and adopted a single payer approach similar to Canada.  

Almost overnight, Reid notes, every resident of Taiwan, in their new national single payer system, had complete choice of provider, cut administrative costs to a mere 2 percent, and experienced striking improvements in patient outcomes.

While Taiwan, like some other national systems, has some problems today, mostly with underfunding, it has a much more equitable healthcare infrastructure, and guarantees healthcare coverage for everyone.

With immensely more resources than other nations, there’s no reason we couldn’t learn from their successes, their mistakes, and adopt a national system that would be far more humane than the disaster we have now.

Is the public option merely fool’s gold?

Is the public option that some have deemed the sword we should all fall on in the healthcare debate little more than fool’s gold?

In the wake of the now widely touted New York Times poll this weekend that showed 85 percent of Americans believe our health care system should be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt and that people are even willing to pay more in taxes to get that kind of system,  the next question ought to be why are Democrats and some liberal constituency groups willing to settle for so little?

From the news pages to the blogs, some progressive activists are counting up the votes and what can be done to persuade 12 recalcitrant Senators and a number of insurance industry fans in the House to vote for a “robust” public option.  

But is this really where we should be drawing the line?

One of those not willing to enlist apparently is Robert Kuttner, co-editor of the American Prospect, who wrote Monday

The public option is a not-very-good second best–because our leading liberal politicians lack the nerve to embrace the one reform that simultaneously solves the problem of cost, quality, and universal inclusion. The policy that dare not speak its name is of course comprehensive national health insurance, or Medicare-for-All.

Kuttner also identifies the central problems with the public option that its most passionate advocates have yet to explain how they will avoid:

Basically, it leaves the two worst aspects of the system intact. First, private insurers will continue to dominate. Second, most people will continue to get their insurance through their employers. Given these two bedrock realities, there is no way that the bill can make serious inroads on cost without cutting back on care.

and further:

a mixed system with a public option effectively invites the most expensive and hard-to-treat people to opt for the public plan, while private insurers will seek to insure the young and the healthy. This is a familiar problem known as adverse selection. The private insurers will then smugly point out that the public plan is less “efficient,” when in fact it simply will have a more costly population. The only way to avoid this problem is to have everyone in the same universal plan–what’s otherwise known as a single-payer plan.

Even the “robust” public option, assuming it is not gutted in the heated rush to accommodate the healthcare industry and pass a “bipartisan” bill, will almost certainly be burdened by these shortcomings.

Will the availability of a public plan genuinely stop private insurers from engaging in adverse selection?

Anyone familiar with the marketing techniques the insurers use now will know they have a hundred ways and more to weed out sicker, more costly customers, even with the toughest requirements prohibiting exclusion of patients with pre-existing conditions.

Nothing now proposed in Congress is likely to change these marketing practices.

Will the public option really stop insurance companies from price gouging? The theory we’re told is that the cheaper public plan will force the private companies to lower costs to compete. The reality is likely to be far different.

With the added requirement of an individual mandate, forcing everyone not covered now to buy insurance, many, especially those who are younger, and healthier, will opt for the barebones minimum plans the insurers will be sure to offer as a lure.

But without effective cost controls, the huge out of pocket costs will discourage even the healthiest people from actually using their insurance. And, in the event of an accident or unexpected illness, even greater financial distress looms when they find out all the services their skeletal plans don’t cover or the limitations in the fine print.

Meanwhile, the public plan likely to have a disproportionate number of sicker enrollees and unable to compete in market costs with the multi-billion dollar private corporations could easily face the choice of bankruptcy or, as Kuttner suggests, massive cost cutting in the form of rationing care. To see the future of the public plan, look at what is happening with many public hospitals and clinics today.

Finally, there’s the issue almost no one talks about. Insurance companies denying medical treatment, referrals to specialists, or diagnostic procedures they don’t want to pay for. Will the availability of a public plan prompt the private insurers to start authorizing claims they now deny?

If there’s a message to be drawn from the Times‘ poll, it is that Americans know our system is broken, and they want real change. They want reform that solves the crisis. They want a healthcare system that doesn’t leave them at the mercy of the private insurers, being forced to choose between house payments or going to the doctor. They want to be able to choose their care provider, or keep the one they have. They want coverage they won’t lose if they are unemployed.

And they won’t get that with any of the plans now being touted as politically viable.

One other lesson of the Times‘ poll. If President Obama, who once famously identified himself as an advocate of single payer, and the Democratic leadership were fighting for single payer as hard as they are for limited reform, they would have the overwhelming support of the public.

What’s the alternative for progressives? How about, let’s fight for the reform we need, not just one that might pass, no matter how ineffective the solution it offers.  

Nurses Greet AHIP in San Diego: the Protests cont…

The tradition of brave and proud nurse activism for guaranteed healthcare on the single-payer model continued today thanks to Janice Webb, RN, and her nurse intervention at  the convention of the health insurance industry in San Diego, AHIP.  They’re the lobbyists for the insurance giants who make money by denying care to the very patients that Janice cares for at UC-San Diego Medical Center.

As nurses last month shook up the Senate Finance Committee, which led to an important meeting with Senate power broker Max Baucus’ office this week, Nurse Webb took her protest to directly challenge those who are at the main cog in our broken and dysfunctional health care system.  

With thousands of well-paid insurance executives around her waiting to hear from Jeb Bush and Howard Dean, Janice marched up to the stage at the San Diego Convention, where  the moderator was droning on about how hard AHIP is working to find healtcare solutions — meaning legislation that will protect their position at the center of power over our health and the profits they make from the pain and suffering of patients.

Taking the mike, Janice held up a copy of an $11 billion dollar check, Janice then declared, to a mix of cheers and boos, “Nurses have the solution.  You all need to get out of healthcare.  We took up a collection and want to present this check to you to go away so we can finally institute a humane single-payer system for this nation…everybody in, nobody out!”

Of course it did not last long.  Burly security men rushed the stage, grabbed Janice and a companion, and hustled them off.  Hysterical AHIP security guards angrily denounced Janice, and demanded her arrest.  

Instead, the police officers smiled, asked Janice if she had any warrants out, and started to describe the healthcare cutbacks they’re facing due to SDPD’s trouble with affording ever-rising insurance premiums, and escorted her outside  where she was given a raucous welcome from a crowd of nurses, teachers, patients, doctors, and progressive democrats.

Taking the mike again–this time to the cheers of the crowd, Janice said, “They refused my check of course, but they’ll take every bit of money my patients can come up with.  Insurance corporations, nurses and patients want you out of our lives!  How many lives ruined by these corporate executives?  How long will Washington let them deny care, delay care, cancel policies, buy off Washington policies, and masquerade their marketing plans as healthcare reform?  Forcing people to subsidize insurers is NOT healthcare reform.”

Janice was followed by Jeffrey Gordon, a Physicians for a National Health Program member, who brought along a half-dozen of his patients who have been bankrupted or sickened by their insurance companies. You probably saw the report today from PNHP how unpayable medical bills, and income lost as a result of illness, now account for a shocking 62 percent of personal bankruptcies, a number that is rising. Too bad the healthcare reform bills now being framed in the Senate won’t solve that problem — in fact, it will likely make it worse by forcing more people to buy insurance without effective cost controls for ever rising premiums and out of pocket costs.

Gordon told the crowd, “As I was driving here I knew I was in the right place because there’s a whole flock of corporate jets lined up right over there.  We’re here to tell AHIP that it’s time to get rid of their jets.”  He added, “The power of those people across the streets keep the people in Washington from talking about the real problems in healthcare in this nation.  And if you don’t make the right diagnosis there is not cure–which is to get rid of the health insurance industry.”

Jim Gothe, a board member of the California Teachers Association followed Gordon’s point, saying “the bad news is that they’re paying for this conventino with money from students, teachers, retiress.  What sense does that make?  Students are the future of this state!…CTA believes healthcare is a human right for all people.”  The local CTA rep, Kathy Rallings continued his point saying, “My one-year-old son had open heart surgery when he was 3 months old.  You know what that means?  He has a preexisting condition FOREVER.  That means his life will be spent following healthcare…not his dreams.”

It’s not too late.  We will get single-payer in this country because we cannot care for all our patients while also subsidizing AHIP.  Help it along.  Tell Max Baucus that he should still hold a hearing on single-payer, or co-sponsor one with the health committee to provide a real side by side comparison with the plans they are proposing, so the American people can judge for themselves which approach will really produce a reform plan that covers everyone, improves quality of care, and includes genuine cost controls — and gets the hands of AHIP off our necks once and for all.

Single payer activists from coast to coast have done a great job getting the message to Congress, but we have to keep it up. Please Fax Baucus and other committee chairs today.  Healthcare is too important to let Washington get wrong.


Inside the Baucus-Single Payer Meeting–What Was Said, What’s Next

Today’s meeting of the nation’s leading single payer activists with Sen. Max Baucus was historic, and a recognition of the power of the tens of thousands of nurses, doctors, and grassroots activists across the country who have been turning up the heat on the policy makers in Washington.

Make no mistake – your voices are being heard. And, the protests and pressure will continue.

As Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, told Baucus, “there is a groundswell” across the country that will continue to press for single payer reform, and Baucus and other policy makers in Washington “are going to get to know us very well.”  In a later press conference, DeMoro blasted the conventional wisdom that single payer is not politically viable. “Is it politically viable to let people die and suffer from a lack of political will?” Noting the fight for women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement, she emphasized, “we’re going to have to turn up the heat. Women did not get the right to vote by voting on it.”

Today’s gripping meeting was in itself an important part of that campaign, with leaders of the CNA/NNOC, Physicians for a National Health Program, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, author of a single payer bill in the Senate, S 703, making a forceful, unfiltered case to one of the top power brokers in the Senate, Max Baucus, for single payer as the only reform likely to actually fix our broken healthcare system and effectively control costs.  A couple of photos from the press conference afterwards are here.

For the first time, Baucus, who has been deluged with protests inside his Senate Finance Committee which has been in the forefront of drafting legislation and in town hall meetings at home in Montana, was apologetic. “I made a mistake,” he said, “I should have left it (single payer) on the table, front and center with everything else.”

Baucus talked about his own positive experiences in Canada where he inspected the Canadian healthcare system first hand, “I was very impressed,” during the healthcare debate in the early 1990s, noting the contrast between a Montana hospital which has an “entire floor” of people devoted to billing, and other administrative paper work, and a nearby Canadian hospital which does it all “in one room.”

He agreed to use the power of his office to have charges dropped against the Baucus 13, nurses, doctors, and activists arrested for raising their voices in the committee hearings.

While Baucus continued to aver that single payer can not pass the legislature, the nurses and doctors pressed him to:

•              Hold a hearing in which the merits of single payer can be contrasted with the plans now rapidly advancing in the Senate. While Baucus said the tight timeline made that very difficult, Sanders noted that Sen. Chris Dodd is considering a health committee hearing on single payer, which Baucus could co-sponsor. Baucus said, “let me think about it.”

•              Have the Congressional Budget Office score, do a financial analysis, of single payer legislation in addition to other health bills it scores.

•              Support legislation to allow federal waivers for individual states to enact single payer systems as national role models (another Sanders bill).

•              Assist in arranging a similar meeting between single payer leaders and President Obama.

Ultimately, Baucus threw the ball back to the President, citing the demand of the President to Congress to have a bill on his desk by October. “He wants a big win on healthcare reform,” Baucus said.

But the rush to adopt a flawed bill would hardly serve the Senate or the President well, DeMoro noted. “The President would be putting himself in a very bad position. We don’t want that to happen.”

One after one, the other participants made compelling cases for single payer. Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, noted that only single payer can achieve effective cost controls. The alternatives being considered are “all unaffordable and unsustainable. Why pour more money into a dysfunctional system.”

PNHP co-founder Dr. David Himmelstein said  “the decision should be made on what’s going to work.” He cited the Massachusetts law, where he lives, which is considered a model for both the Baucus proposal and the pending Kennedy bill. The bill is rapidly “fraying,” said Himmelstein. Some 28,000 state residents are about to be cut off of subsidized coverage because the state can’t afford it, and new studies show conditions for many state residents back to where they were before the bill was passed with inadequate or no coverage, and medical bills they can’t pay.

Geri Jenkins, RN, Co-President of CNA/NNOC, said “we need evidence based policy,” and all the evidence shows that single payer is the best way to contain costs, improve quality, and achieve universality.

PNHP President Dr. Oliver Fein cited the study last year reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine that 59 percent of physicians support a single-payer type system, and a new study showing doctors waste three to four weeks a year on paperwork that could be spent caring for patients.

Sanders later praised the efforts of nurses, doctors and activists who have made single payer an inescapable part of the public discourse. “When you have the nurses and physicians saying the current system is not working,” scores of people saying health care is a right  and single payer the most cost effective approach, we’re seeing this grassroots movement growing and gaining momentum.

If you agree, why don’t you fax Max Baucus, maybe a couple times, and let him know that we need real healthcare reform, not lobbyist-driven pablum and nonsense statements.

Follow the national nurses blog and twitter feed!

“Mad” Max Baucus: Speaking Nonsense to Power

What was Max Baucus thinking at his appearance at the “newsmakers” breakfast of the Kaiser Family Foundation Thursday when in the space of a few minutes he made the following two statements about healthcare reform:

“Everything’s on the table. Everything. All proposals. All ideas that groups may have are on the table. And they’re going to stay on the table. We are going to discuss them.”

And, then two minutes later, pressed to explain why he continues to gag discussion of the option most favored by nurses, doctors, and tens of thousands of consumer activists, single payer, Baucus can say:

“We can’t squander this opportunity. We can’t waste capital on something that’s just impossible.”

No doubt Baucus is getting a bit testy about having to explain his rather inconsistent positions, and activists and some in the media who continue to pester him about why are you shutting out debate about an approach that just happens to work in the rest of the industrialized world.

The latest to pose the question is the legendary Bill Moyers whose show this week features the blackout on single payer.

Moyers has warmed up for the show by writing today:

 Is it the proverbial tree falling in the forest, making a noise that journalists can’t or won’t hear? Could the indifference of the press be because both the President of the United States and Congress have been avoiding single payer like, well, like the plague? As we see so often, government officials set the agenda by what they do and don’t talk about.

So if single payer remains out of bounds for those who are supposed to represent us, what does it leave as the option other than more reinforcements for the same insurance based system that has created the present disaster.

Need a reminder? Two more examples today:

A study in Health Affairs that documents physicians spend an average of 142 hours annually dealing with insurance plans — at a cost of $31 billion. Primary care physicians spend even more, 165 hours per year, a sobering number for those advocating more reliance on primary care.

Nurses, as can readily attest, are also forced to waste an additional 23 weeks per year per physician battling with insurers. All those hours, for nurses and doctors alike, are hours stolen from bedside care taking care of patients.

Then there’s the new survey from the American Academy of Family Physicians

who report a big drop in patient visits — care delivered — because of cost. Nearly 90 percent said their patients are worried about being able to pay the high costs, 58 percent cited an increase in appointments cancelled, and 60 percent cited a jump in patients skipping preventive care.

Not to worry, according to Max Baucus: “we’re going to try to get as close as we can” to “universal” coverage.

By forcing everyone to buy private insurance so more people can go broke with the high costs, skip preventive care and end up in emergency rooms when they get sick, and ensure that our nurses and doctors can spend more time with the bean counters and claims adjustors rather than patients.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s the public’s vision of real healthcare reform.  

If you agree, why don’t you fax Max Baucus, maybe a couple times, and let him know that we need real healthcare reform, not lobbyist-driven pablum and nonsense statements.

Follow the national nurses blog and twitter feed!