It is beyond doubt that we are in a potentially historic moment of great change. In the last two years we've made huge change in America. Just four or five years ago after George W's re-election how many of us thought that in 2008 we would elect as President a progressive African-American and large majorities of Democrats in both Houses of Congress? And how many of us thought that we would also be so close to passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and real, fundamental labor law reform?
Americans are ready for change! And no potential change in America is more significant as real, fundamental healthcare reform,.
To be sure we have huge obstacles and barriers to overcome. Now the insurance companies which originally committed to working with the President and Congress on change have reversed course, come out adamantly for the status quo and threatened to raise premiums and other costs if we achieve change.
And America's Radical Rightwing led by Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich and others are doing all they can to keep us from critically needed reforms in healthcare. They even went so far as to try to intimidate Members of Congress and proponents of change at Congressional Town Hall meetings in August, using such thuggish tactics as shouting down Members of Congress, carrying guns to the town halls and generally trying to bully everyone who supports reforming healthcare.
But the American people want healthcare reform and the economic and moral case for reform could hardly be stronger.
In the richest country in the history of the world, we have 47, 48, maybe 50 million Americans with no access to healthcare. We have another 40 million Americans with
unreliable or inadequate insurance - like the Wal-Mart workers with a company policy that has a $3000 annual deductible. There is no way an average Wal-Mart worker can put $3000 together in one place at one time to save their lives. In fact, all of us subsidize Wal-Mart and other non-union, abusive employers by providing Medicaid to their employees - which is funded by our tax dollars.
The AFL-CIO has several very important principles and goals for healthcare reform:
• Universal coverage. Ensure that everybody in America has access to quality, affordable healthcare;
• Lower costs for all of us. We get less per healthcare dollar spent than any other nation in the developed world. We pay more than anyone else and get less care;
• Break the stranglehold of the insurance companies; and,
• An employer mandate. It is critical that employers all provide health insurance for their employees. It makes no sense that Ford, GM, and Chrysler pay $1500 - $2000 more for every car they manufacture in healthcare costs than Honda, Nissan, BMW, and Mercedes.
Critical to doing all of this is the so-called public option. The public option is simply a government sponsored health insurance plan similar to other government plans like Medicaid or Medicare to make sure those who can't get or afford private sector insurance coverage will still have access to healthcare coverage. The public plan or option is also critical to the private sector insurance companies to force down their costs and to break their monopolies.
The insurance companies and America's radical rightwing have done all they can to bully, threaten, and scare the American people and political leaders away from a public plan or option. They have called it socialism. They have called it un-American. But the fact is that America already has at least five government-run healthcare plans: Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration (VA), Federal Employees Healthcare, and Congressional Healthcare.
Anyone who is intellectually honest and opposes the public plan or option in healthcare reform should oppose Medicare, Medicaid, or the healthcare provided by the VA for our veterans who honorably serve this country, for the same reasons.
Caring for the uninsured is not the only reason that we need real fundamental healthcare reform. The annual rising costs of healthcare are killing us. More than 60% of home foreclosures are due to uninsured medical crises. For union and non-union workers, potential pay raises are eaten up by rising healthcare costs. Union employers who provide healthcare for their workers like Safeway and Kroger are undermined by employers like Wal-Mart.
One of the most important reasons for the troubles of the Big Three Automakers is that they provide healthcare for the employees and retirees while foreign automakers don't or have it provided by their governments.
Real, fundamental healthcare reform would mean that all of us - no matter our income - would have healthcare coverage, that it would be a right not a privilege, that no family would lose their home or declare bankruptcy because of illness or injury, that no one would have to be afraid to leave their job because they were afraid of losing healthcare, that good union employers could compete with non-union employers because all employers would have to provide healthcare.
Even American manufacturers would be better able to compete in the global marketplace.
Real fundamental healthcare reform would lower healthcare costs because access to preventive care and wellness care would be opened up and health problems could be addressed at an earlier, cheaper stage rather than at a later, more expensive stage.
Real fundamental healthcare reform would also mean that the nation's healthcare costs would be lowered because no one would have to go to a hospital emergency room for routine care with a cost the rest of us have to bear.
Finally, real fundamental healthcare reform with a public healthcare plan would take our nation one more step toward a more perfect union where fewer of our people suffer needlessly to increase already obscene profits, where more of our people have more security, where our economy is strong, more vibrant, and more competitive, and more of our people are allowed - in the words of our founders - "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
What, then, about this discussion does Senator Joe Lieberman not get? What does he reject? Why would this man who so many of us worked so hard for to be vice president in 2000 turn his back on all of us? Why would this Senator who has funded his campaigns with the dollars of Democrats and Progressives, who has won every election with the votes of Democrats and Progressives turn his back on such a common sensical and just movement for fundamental healthcare reform?