It’s Crunch Time for Health Reform

Recording Vice-President's Report

Volume CIX, No. 9September, 2009

Bill Dennison

In order to achieve results, we have to make our voices heard in D.C.

The next few months may well determine if the United States will remain a third world country when it comes to its citizens’ health care needs.

Currently the U.S. has the second worst infant mortality rate among developed countries (below Hungary and just above Chile), the highest rate of preventable deaths among developed countries, and 47 million citizens with no health insurance coverage at all.

For the past seven years the Local 802 Health Fund has faced double-digit cost increases. Members have sacrificed wage increases to maintain even a modest level of benefits. Participant premiums and increased co-payments and deductibles have all added to the burden on 802 members.

And these are the more fortunate of our members.

Many others have no access to health benefits, or are paying market-rate premiums that can exceed $20,000 per year for family coverage.

While the Obama administration is following through on its commitment to address national health care reform, what it will be able to accomplish depends upon pressure from the grass roots. Committees in the House and Senate will resume their work this month. If it’s to be at all meaningful it must include at least three key elements: universal coverage, a public health insurance option, and real steps to reduce costs.

Without universal coverage requiring everyone and every employer to participate, there is no way to spread the risk and make health care affordable.

Without a public health plan option, there is no way to stop or even reduce the billions in profits and administrative largess that are siphoned off by the for profit insurance industry. And without requirements that heath care focus on primary and preventive care, thus improving the value of care, there is no way health costs can be sustainable.

At least some key Congressional leaders are on board with the kinds of reform needed. The momentum for real reform is there. But it will not happen unless there is continuing mass pressure from the American people. The enemies of national health care reform are spending millions on attack ads and the misinformation is truly appalling. In addition to the well-worn “national health care equals socialism,” and “government bureaucrats will be taking out your appendix,” we now have “government will euthanize your grandmother.”

It’s not a surprise that one of the major funders of this effort is multi-millionaire Rick Scott, the former chief executive of the Health Corporation of America. HCA pled guilty to 14 felonies for overbilling Medicare and accepting kickbacks, ultimately paying $1.7 billion in criminal penalties.

Scott says he is “looking out” for the American people. Right!

The only counter to the millions that will be spent by Scott and others is the involvement of ordinary citizens, including union members like you.

Recently I spoke to a Local 802 member who attended his Congressional representative’s town hall meeting. This member made an important contribution to the discussion and represents a voice that needs to be heard.

And earlier this summer our members – along with members from Equity and Local 1 – were in Washington, D.C. for a national health care lobby day.

In the coming weeks we may be asking for help with other lobbying efforts. If we are to gain any meaningful health care reform we all need to be part of this effort.

Lose your insurance?

In the meantime, if you have fallen off one of the union’s health plans, there’s some big news that may help you.

It has to do with COBRA, which is the law allowing you to pay out-of-pocket to maintain your health coverage if you lose it.

The Federal Stimulus bill contains funds that will subsidize up to 65 percent of the cost of COBRA for nine months.

In addition, the New York State entertainment industry COBRA subsidy of 50 percent has been extended beyond the previous 12-month limit. It is now possible to get the 65 percent and then the 50 percent subsidy for the full 18 months of COBRA eligibility. Or, you can even access both subsidies simultaneously and receive COBRA for nine months without paying anything out of pocket.

If you have fallen off any of the Local 802 plans, or if you have run out of a previous COBRA subsidy, call the Local 802 Health Fund office at (212) 245-4802 for details.

See the chart at below for more information about COBRA rates.

If you have this coverage now… …then this is what you would pay per month to continue your coverage under COBRA if you fell off the plan
Plan A+ with hospitalization ($4,300 level) $478.23* (individual)
$1252.94* (family)
Plan A+ without hospitalization ($3,200 level) $337.94* (individual)
$888.15* (family)
Plan A $228.20* (individual)
$616.16* (family)
Plan B $58.35* (individual)
$157.56* (family)
* These amounts may be reduced or eliminated through the new COBRA subsidies as discussed in this article.