Health Reform: A Small Step Forward

So we didn’t win the Public Option. It has been replaced with a vaguely defined government regulated insurance exchange.

Additionally, labor leaders were not able to completely remove the tax on working people to generate money for that program. As of now, they were able to:

• delay the tax for those of us who are state/local government employees or who have collectively bargained agreements,

• to increase the thresholds for premiums taxed for women, seniors and those with high risk occupations—whose health insurance premiums tend to be higher, and

• to exclude dental and vision from the calculations for the tax (starting in 2015).

Nevertheless, the inclusion of any tax on working people instead of taxing the corporate interests that got us in this situation in the first place is a qualitative loss from what we started with.

This is not the bill we fought for.

Single-payer advocates and many others might argue that we did not demand enough in the first place. And there is definitely validity in the notion that organized labor should have done more to support the single-payer movement outside of the beltway, even if they were pushing the public option on Capital Hill.

In light of the recent negotiations, corporate interests will blame the Obama Administration and Democrats to giving in to “special interests”. And they will undoubtedly criticize unions for stereotypically defending their own interests against unorganized workers in the country.

Though I don’t typically gamble, I’d argue they would do this regardless of what health bill was proposed, weak or strong, because it is in their interest to keep things as they are. The Right in every country has a strong tradition of over-simplifying important issues to divide the working class.

But that doesn’t mean we have to take the bait.

Taking a step back from our various positions to appreciate this incredibly complex, offensive (as in attacking the current healthcare industry) battle over healthcare—I’m not convinced this is the worst case scenario. In fact, it could do more to mobilize the working class than to demoralize it.

This is not the bill we fought for, …but it is the bill we’ve got. It is important for us to see it as a small step forward, and not a giant leap backwards.

I’m embarrassed to say that it seems that the Republicans have recognized the threat more than we have. This compromise could set the stage for a more emboldened fight for workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain, some of which can be fought in the form of the Employee Free Choice Act.

(I know…seems like such a distant memory.)

If workers with a collectively bargained health care plan are exempt from the tax on health coverage, wouldn’t we expect workers without a union to try to form one to win their own contracts?

If I am right, it could also jumpstart motivation for workers in Right-to-Work-for-Less states and states with other backwards labor policies to struggle for the right to collectively bargain.

Does this mean that union leaders should only fight for their members and not the entire working class? Of course not! But in a toxic political climate, pre-midterm elections, when all else fails, should they continue to fight like hell for their actual members? You better believe it!

Ultimately we know that healthcare as a profitable industry is just wrong, and it should be replaced with not more insurance (private or public), but simply good care—a system where doctors, pharmacists, and hospital administrators are government employees. (Yes, government-run healthcare—the Republican nightmare)

But for now, under these circumstances, we have to struggle much harder to win much smaller gains. As satisfying as it may seem to threaten the Democrats during an election year, it would be an empty threat until our movement can get it together enough to build a truly independent political machine that can challenge the Democrats. Without one, our threat to kick Democrats out of office this November is merely a gateway back to Republican domination.

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