The July-August issue of Allegro had some bad news for members covered by Local 802’s Health Benefits Plan: prescription drug benefits and premium reimbursements will be reduced as of Oct. 1. What’s more, the front-page article hinted at a darker future for the HBP’s major medical coverage, most likely in the form of “higher deductibles and lower insurance company payments,” according to HBP trustee and 802 prez Bill Moriarity.
For those of us who remember the 1980s, “it’s déjà vu all over again,” in Yogi Berra’s immortal words. Back then, the HBP came within a whisker of going bust due to skyrocketing health care inflation. It had to make deep cuts in benefits just to stay alive. For years afterward, union demands for larger employer health benefit payments dominated 802’s contract negotiations, as musicians had to scramble to maintain their reduced coverage.
The good news: employers came through with higher contributions, saving the HBP from bankruptcy. The bad news: ever since, reduced benefits have required musicians to pay a larger share of health expenses out of their own pockets. And those pockets aren’t quite as full as they might have been, since every dollar that an employer pays in benefits represents a dollar that could have been part of employees’ pay.
Then, as now, 802’s health plan wasn’t alone. Costs were spiraling upward so fast that everyone was feeling the pinch. Employers found it increasingly costly to insure their workers. Insurance companies found it hard to turn a profit selling health insurance, so many discontinued it. Millions found themselves un- and under-insured. National health insurance became a major issue in the 1992 presidential elections.
The Clinton health plan fizzled in 1994. Conventional political wisdom made health reform a non-starter for years thereafter. With an anti-regulatory majority in Congress, insurers’ promises of controlling costs were given free rein. Health inflation abated for a few years, enabling free marketeers to claim that “managed care” was a magic cure for America’s health care problems.
Now, a few years later, costs are again soaring and HMOs’ abuses have become legendary. The political tide has turned and politicians are falling all over themselves to appear to be solving health care problems, with bills promising such goodies as “patients’ rights” and prescription drug coverage under Medicare. Trouble is, many of those pols have been accepting sizable contributions from insurers, drug companies and other health care profiteers. Behind their cynical posturing is the knowledge that their bills will either fail to rein in the profiteers, won’t be enacted or, if they are, will be blocked by the administration (as will the new law authorizing drug imports from Canada).
Winston Churchill once said, “The Americans always do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else first.” Perhaps his prophesy is about to come true regarding health care. A new Universal Health Care Task Force in Congress has introduced House Concurrent Resolution 99 (HCR-99), known as the “Health Care Access Resolution.” (The resolution and the campaign to enact it were the subject of a page 1 article and a guest commentary in the May Allegro. Its provisions appear below.)
If House Concurrent Resolution 99 – along with its soon-to-be-introduced Senate counterpart – is adopted and the Congress follows through by enacting a Universal Health Care program in 2004, the Health Benefit Plan’s troubles will be over. Musicians won’t need the HBP, because everyone will have access to affordable care. Such a system has been enjoyed for years in all other industrialized nations, where it is financed by taxes, mandated employer contributions, or a combination of the two.
When the U.S. institutes universal health insurance, huge amounts in health costs will be saved. The health industry’s outrageous profits and administrative waste will be eliminated, so that even after everyone is covered, premiums and out-of-pocket expenses could actually be reduced for most individuals and companies, especially if progressive taxes (unlike Medicare’s) are part of the legislation. It’s an offer we can’t refuse.
As of the end of July, HCR-99 had 90 co-sponsors. To pass the House of Representatives, 218 votes are needed, with 51 votes in the Senate. More information about the resolution, including a list of its co-sponsors, is available from www.uhcan.org/hcar on the internet or from Local 802’s Public Relations Office (where you can also get info about how to contact your representative).
If your Congressmember has not yet signed on, write, phone or fax the office to insist that he or she do so. If our union and its members join with millions of others in an outpouring of grassroots support, this long-overdue proposal can soon become a reality. Contact your Congressional representative ASAP.
John Glasel was President of Local 802 and Trustee of its Health Benefits Plan from 1983 through 1992.
HCR-99’s GUIDELINES FOR HEALTH CARE ACCESS
Enactment of HCR-99 would require Congress to “enact legislation by October 2004 to guarantee that every person in the United States, regardless of income, age, or employment or health status, has access to health care that –
- is affordable to individuals and families, businesses and taxpayers and that removes financial barriers to needed care;
- is as cost efficient as possible, spending the maximum amount of dollars on direct patient care;
- provides comprehensive benefits, including benefits for mental health and long-term services;
- promotes prevention and early intervention;
- includes parity for mental health and other services;
- eliminates disparities in access to quality health care;
- addresses the needs of people with special health care needs and underserved populations in rural and urban areas;
- promotes quality and better health outcomes;
- addresses the need to have adequate numbers of health care caregivers, practitioners, and providers to guarantee timely access to quality care;
- provides adequate and timely payments in order to guarantee access to providers;
- fosters a strong network of health care facilities, including safety-net providers;
- ensures continuity of coverage and continuity of care;
- maximizes consumer choice of health care providers and practitioners; and
- is easy for patients, providers and practitioners to use and reduces paperwork.