When the 115th Congress opened, the Republican leadership made it clear that killing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was their first priority.
But killing Obamacare is only their first order of business. Their goal is to change the way that Americans obtain health insurance. If they succeed, Medicare will be privatized, many low-income workers will no longer be eligible for Medicaid, and employee health insurance plans will be greatly diminished.
But workers took their first stand in the battle to save health care on January 15 when tens of thousands of people attended Save Our Health Care rallies held in more than 40 cities across the US.
Labor unions played a key role in organizing the rallies that were sponsored by Our Revolution, the political organization that grew out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
The biggest Save Our Health Care rally took place in Warren, Michigan where 10,000 people braved frigid weather to hear speeches by Sen. Sanders, other elected officials, and Cynthia Estrada, vice president of the United Autoworkers (UAW).
Estrada said that we’re telling Republican leaders who want to gut Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare that “we the people are not going to let that happen.”
Estrada also said that union members would be joining people in the streets to make sure that everybody has health care insurance.
“In the UAW, we have health care, and every day it’s a fight to keep it, but I know that the great UAW members standing over there,” said Estrada pointing to the large contingent of UAW members attending the rally. “Are going to fight for everyone who doesn’t have health care because health care is a right for all.”
National Nurses United members were on hand at rallies in Chicago; Portland, Maine; Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles; Sacramento; San Francisco; Fort Lauderdale; Fort Worth; and Washington DC.
“On this day of action we are standing with our elders, our friends, and family, along with many of our elected representatives to say NO to the Republicans’ disastrous proposals,” said Deborah Burger, co-president, National Nurses United. “At this moment of tremendous confusion about the future of health care in the US, nurses are saying, now is the time to move forward with Medicare for all.”
Shortly after the new Congress convened, the Republican controlled Senate and House of Representatives voted for procedural motions that are the first steps toward killing Obamacare, which has provided heath care insurance for 20 million people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
And soon after his inauguration, President Trump signed an Executive Order that the new President hopes will lead to the repeal of Obamacare.
The Republican strategy is to repeal Obamacare but then delay implementation of the repeal until they can figure out how to replace it.
But the Congressional Budget Office reported that doing so could cause 18 million people to lose their health care insurance and cause private health care insurance premiums to increase by as much as 20 percent to 25 percent.
While Obamacare has its problems, it has been a life saver for many like those at the Warren rally who carried signs reading, “KILLING OBAMACARE KILLS PEOPLE LIKE ME.”
For Republicans, killing Obamacare is only the first step toward radically restructuring health care.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Tom Price, the nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, want to privatize Medicare.
Their scheme would do away with single payer, government-run Medicare and replace it government vouchers that seniors would use to purchase individual health insurance plans.
For many if not most seniors, purchasing individual health care policies would lower the quality of the health care that they receive.
Speaker Ryan also wants to deregulate Medicaid and let states make their own rules for who qualifies for Medicaid, which will leave many low-income and elderly Medicaid recipients with no and little health care coverage.
Rep. Price has sponsored legislation that among other things would provide employers with tax incentives to eliminate their employee health insurance plans as a way of encouraging more workers to purchase private health insurance plans.
Addressing the Warren rally, Sen. Sanders told the crowd that the first order of business of the Save Our Health Care movement is to stop the repeal of Obamacare, but the fight for health care for all must go beyond saving Obamacare.
“Our job today is to defend the Affordable Care Act,” said Sanders. “Our job for tomorrow is to create a Medicare for all, a single-payer health care system,” that provides the same high quality of care that seniors receive through Medicare to everyone in the US.