Nurses lead fight for health care for all in CA

The California Nurses Association (CNA) and National Nurses United (NNU) called for rallies and demonstrations to protest a decision by the Speaker of the California State Assembly that could kill a bill that would guarantee health care coverage to all Californians.

SB 562, The Healthy California Act, would establish a single payer health insurance program similar to the federal Medicare program, except that it would provide health insurance to all Californians, not just seniors.

On Friday, June 23, Speaker Anthony Rendon announced that he would not permit the Assembly to consider the bill, which the state Senate passed on June 1.

Deborah Burger, president of CNA and co-president of NNU, condemned Speaker Rendon for acting in secret to protect insurance companies and jeopardizing health care for many Californians who could lose health care coverage if the Republican Congress and President Trump are successful in their efforts to scrap the Affordable Care Act.

“The people of California are counting on the legislature to protect them now, not sometime next year, and as polls have shown Californians support this proposal by a wide majority,” said Burger.

President Trump and the Republican Congress have been working hard to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

As Congress gets ready to adjourn for its July 4 recess, Republicans in the Senate are just a few votes short of the votes needed to pass the Senate version of the Obamacare repeal bill.

If their bill passes, 22 million fewer Americans will have health care insurance by 2026. As many as 2.4 million fewer Californians will have health care coverage.

In California, CNA, NNU, and a coalition of 350 groups called Healthy California aren’t waiting for the Republican hammer to drop on health care.

They’re organizing and fighting for the Healthy California Act.

Earlier in the year, members of the nurses union and other supporters of guaranteed health care for all canvassed neighborhoods to build grassroots support for state legislation that will protect Californians from the health care cuts looming in Washington DC.

These efforts led to a mass base of support for the Healthy California Act.

A recent poll commissioned by CNA found that 70 percent of Californians now support a single payer health care plan like the one proposed in the Healthy California Act.

As a result of the grassroots organizing and popular support for a single payer plan, the Senate passed the Healthy California Act by a vote of 23-14.

After the Senate passed the bill, the insurance lobby stepped up its efforts to prevent passage of the Healthy California Act in the Assembly.

Their pitch is that California can’t afford to guarantee health care for all Californians.

But a recent report by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that the state would actually save money by implementing the Healthy California Act.

“Enacting a single-payer system would yield considerable savings overall by lowering administrative costs, controlling the prices of pharmaceuticals and fees for physicians and hospitals, reducing unnecessary treatments, and expanding preventive care,” wrote Robert Pollin, one of the authors of the report in an opinion piece that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. “We found that Healthy California could ultimately result in savings of about 18 percent, bringing health care spending to about $331 billion, or 8% less than the current $370 billion.”

After Speaker Rendon announced that he would not permit the Assembly to consider the Healthy California Act, the nurses union and Healthy California called on supporters to rally at Speaker Rendon’s Los Angeles office on June 27.

Hundreds of people did so and marched into his office to present the Speaker with personal notes describing why they and other Californians needed heath care for all.

Another demonstration supporting the Healthy California Act is scheduled for Wednesday, June 28 in Sacramento, the state capital.

Burger said that the fight for health care for all in California is not over.

“Thousands of Californians have been in motion for guaranteed health care. They are not finished,” said Burger.

Unions: Trumpcare hurts workers; enriches the already rich

The Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, was filed in Congress on March 6.

The official title of the Republican bill is the American Health Care Act (AHCA), but D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, is calling the new bill “Trumpcare.”

When the bill was introduced, labor unions condemned it as a gift to the rich paid for by the working class.

One week after the bill was introduced, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of Trumpcare. The CBO analysis confirms that the unions are right.

The New York Times reports that according to the CBO analysis, Trumpcare cuts taxes on the wealthy and corporations by $1 trillion over the next ten years.

Those taxes help pay for federal subsidies that made health insurance affordable for many workers.

Trumpcare eliminates the subsidies, putting affordable health care out of reach for millions of workers.

It also reduces Medicaid funding by $880 billion and caps the growth of future funding. The reduction and cap will cause millions of low-income workers to lose Medicaid coverage.

“This isn’t a health care plan, it’s a shameful handout to corporations and the wealthy paid by working families who will pay for the tax cuts with less coverage,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) when the bill was first introduced.

“President Trump and the Republican Party ran on a promise to immediately repeal the ‘broken’ Affordable Care Act and replace it with something ‘great’,” said Taylor. “Instead, what was unveiled by House Republicans is a plan that slashes health care coverage for millions of Americans.”

Taylor made his statement before the CBO released its analysis.

If anything Taylor may have underestimated the number of people who will lose coverage.

The CBO analysis states that the Trumpcare will cause 24 million people to lose health care coverage over the next ten years. Fourteen million will lose coverage within a year of its passage.

One reason that workers will lose health care insurance is that Trumpcare eliminates Obamacare subsidies for purchasing health insurance and replaces it with tax credits.

But the Trumpcare tax credits are less generous than Obamacare subsidies and don’t increase as the price of health insurance increases.

Additionally, Trumpcare would allow insurance companies to charge older workers much more than younger workers, but  tax credits for older workers will be the same as younger workers.

Trumpcare would also phase out the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid, which made Medicaid available to many more low-income workers.

Trumpcare also changes the nature of Medicaid, which would no longer be a government benefit for workers who meet certain income requirements.

Instead, the federal government would provide grants to states. The states would determine eligibility rules and the level of benefits.

If the federal grant does not cover the cost of everyone who is eligible, benefits would be rationed. Some would get them; others wouldn’t.

“Trumpcare will gut Medicaid expansion and subsidies that have made lifesaving health care available to millions of Americans,” said Taylor.

Trumpcare could also cause employers to drop health insurance benefits for their workers.

Forbes reports that up to 7 million workers could lose their employer-based insurance benefit because of Trumpcare.

One of the reasons that workers may lose their employer-based health care benefit is that Trumpcare maintains the Obamacare excise tax, a 40 percent tax on employer-based health insurance whose premium costs exceed the national average of health care premium costs.

The high cost of the excise tax could cause some employers to drop employee health care insurance. Others may cut benefits to avoid the tax.

The excise tax would  especially hurt union workers, who through years of struggle have won good, affordable employer-based health care insurance.

By maintaining the excise tax, Trumpcare “will drive up already skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs and drive down coverage for the vast majority of Americans under age 65—more than 177 million—who get health insurance through work,” said Taylor.

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United (NNU), also joined the chorus of union leaders criticizing the anti-working class nature of Trumpcare.

“The principal effect of the new bill will be the loss of existing health coverage for tens of millions of people, without any restraints on health care industry pricing practices that add up to massive health insecurity for the American people.” writes DeMoro writing for Common Dreams.

Health care in the US can’t be fixed, continued DeMoro until “our broken, dysfunctional, profit-focused health care system (is replaced by) an improved Medicare for all system,” which would expand Medicare so that it covers everybody.

DeMoro writes that NNU is building grassroots support for a single-payer health care plan like Medicare in the state of California “that could become the national model (for) an alternative to both the ACA and the fraudulently named GOP American Health Care Act.”

 

Nurses host Stop Austerity, Stop Keystone XL Bridgewalk in San Francisco

A large poster with the message, “Stop Austerity, Stop Keystone XL” was prominently displayed as about 1,500 union and environmental activists on June 20 marched across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to express their opposition to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,700 mile pipeline that when completed will transport 900,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to Texas.

The June 20 Stop Austerity, Stop Keystone XL Bridgewalk was organized by National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses. NNU opposes the pipeline because of the union’s concerns about the pipeline’s impact on public health and climate change.

“Nurses today care for scores of patients struggling with serious health problems, from lung disease to heart attacks, to cancer, that are linked to environmental pollution,” said Karen Higgins, co-president of NNU in a statement announcing the action. “The Keystone Pipeline threatens to severely accelerate the environmental health crisis as well as undermining our efforts to slow the adverse effects of climate change.”

According to NNU, the health problems begin with the process of extracting oil from tar sands in Canada and continue throughout the transportation process down to Texas.

Massive amounts of water are used in the extraction process. During extraction, the water is polluted with toxic substances and dumped into holding pools that can seep into the groundwater.

“Communities living downstream from the ponds have seen spikes in rates of rare cancers, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism,” reads an explanation on NNU’s website of why the union opposes the pipeline.  “In one small community of just 1,200 residents, 100 have already died from cancer.”

As the oil makes its way down the line, leaks and spills can also cause problems.

NNU reports that in 2010 “a tar sands oil pipeline ruptured near Marshall, Minnesota.  The diluted bitumen, a degraded form of petroleum, traveled 40 miles down the Kalamazoo River to Morrow Lake. More than a month later, state officials found that half of the residents in communities along the river reported respiratory ailments and other symptoms associated with the spill.”

More recently in 2013, “an Exxon Mobil pipeline with tar sands oil ruptured near Mayflower, Ark. Two months later local residents continue to complain of health problems, including persistent coughs and headaches. Independent water and air tests have shown elevated levels of contaminants.”

Perhaps the biggest concern about the pipeline is its impact on climate change.

The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that tar sands well-to-tank carbon emissions are about 82 percent higher than conventional oil drilling.

“Carbon emissions are a major factor in intensifying climate change,” reads the NNU explanation. “Higher air temperatures can increase bacteria-related food poisoning, such as salmonella, and animal-borne diseases such as West Nile virus. Ground level ozone contaminants can damage lung tissue, reduce lung function, and increase respiratory ailments.

“Pediatricians have said they are already witnessing a rise in vector-borne diseases including diarrhea, cholera, gastroenteritis, typhoid, and hepatitis due to environmental factors and the effects of climate change.”

Joining NNU on the bridgewalk were activists from a number of the groups including 350.org, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, CREDO, Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, 350BayArea.org, Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter, Equal Health Network, Center for Biological Diversity, Keystone XL Action Council, UNITE HERE! Local 2850, Citizens Climate Lobby, Bay Localize, and Movement Generation.

The Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union have issued a joint statement of opposition to Keystone XL, and members of the CWA and SEIU have been prominent in other actions aimed at opposing the pipeline.

Construction unions and the Teamsters support the building of the pipeline because of the jobs that it will create.

The bridgewalk was one activity of the NNU’s annual Staff Nurses Assembly. At the assembly, the nurses in addition to discussing the impact of the Keystone pipeline will talk about the union’s anti-austerity campaign.

One feature of this campaign is the union’s support for Inclusive Prosperity Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, that would add a small financial transactions tax on high-volume, speculative financial trades.

This so-called Robin Hood tax could generate about $1 trillion over ten years that could be used to offset austerity measures and produce millions of jobs building and repairing infrastructure, improving public health, improving the quality of health care, and upgrading public education and public higher education.

NNU was one of the early supporters of the Robin Hood tax and has played a major role in building grassroots support for the tax and the investment in public goods that would be possible with money generated by the tax.

In first Texas contract, Nurses win voice in patient care standards

Registered nurses at four Texas hospitals recently approved first-time contracts that give them a voice in establishing safe patient-care standards.

The nurses belong to the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNU). They work at Las Palmas Medical Center and Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, the Corpus Christi Medical Center, and the Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville, all owned by HCA, the largest private hospital operator in the US.

“Texas took a big step forward in terms of patient care standards with these agreements,” said Fred Flores, a Corpus Christi RN.

“This is a victory for quality health care,” said Ann James, an RN at Las Palmas in El Paso.

The new collective bargaining agreements create Professional Practices Committees, composed of RNs elected by peers who can make recommendations for improving patient care to management.

The contracts also establish staffing committees to recommend safe staffing levels based on patient acuity, the severity of patients’ illnesses.

RNs at these hospitals have been fighting for improved patient care and safer staffing levels for some time. In August 2011, nurses and their supporters at Las Palmas organized a lunch time demonstration at the hospital to call attention to staffing problems.

“We’re concerned because the level of staffing in our unit is inconsistent with the hospital’s own policies,” said Carmen Yazdi, at the demonstration. “Having too many patients prevents us from delivering the kind of care we want to give to our patients and to the El Paso community.”

Yazdi at the time was a nurse in the telemetry unit, where people with heart problems are cared for.

At the demonstration Terri Little-Verdugo, a neo-natal nurse, told the El Paso Times that the hospital policy calls for one nurse per two babies in the neo-natal unit, but at times, the actual ratio is one to three or four.

“I care for the sickest babies,” said Lucia Adams, another neo-natal nurse. “Because they are so small, a downturn in their condition can have an immediate impact on their lives. When we have too many babies to care for at the same time, it’s difficult to catch critical situations. We simply want staffing at a level that is consistent with the hospital’s care plan.”

Two months after the Las Palmas demonstration, nurses at the Del Sol Medical Center held a similar demonstration. “We’re not staffed at acuity levels,” said Monica Sanchez, a Del Sol RN to the El Paso Times. “It makes it harder to give the absolute best kind of care that we went into nursing to give.”

The need for safer staffing levels is one of the reasons that Sanchez and her cohorts joined the NNU during an organizing campaign, which led to the unionization of RNs at the four Texas hospitals in 2010.

After the completion fo the successful organizing drive, a bargaining committee began negotiating the first contract with the hospitals. It took two years, but an agreement was finalized, and nurses approved it on September 6.

“It took time,” said Adriana Soto, an RN, who works at the Valley Regional Medical Center. “But in the end we were able to reach a settlement that will solidify our RN organization and provides our patients in Brownsville with quality care.”

“For us, having an acknowledged role in the standards for patient care is a must-win in a contract,” said Maria Navarro, an RN at Del Sol.  “We are professionals who work at the bedside, and patients count on us.  Management gains from our expertise.  We need to be able to share it, and management needs to be listening.  We have achieved that in our new contract.”