|Workers and ordinary people in the public and private sectors have been paying more for health education, becoming less solvent, and getting less quality in their essential services for a long time. There are powerful interests that are very happy with the consequences of regressive tax and budget policies policies.
Two months later what happened in Wisconsin has happened here in Massachusetts.
At the time I was speaking to the journalist I wasn't making a prediction that the Democratic Party leadership on Beacon Hill would push through a budget provision very similar to that passed in Wisconsin, but that is indeed what happened early last week. The bill, which allows municipal governments to strip the rights of municipal and state workers to negotiate on health care costs, passed overwhelmingly in the House. Locally in the Berkshires, three out of four Democratic state representatives voted yes. Only Paul Mark, in the 2nd Berkshire District, voted against it.
Ronald Rene Patenaude, President UAW Local 2322 in Holyoke, wrote a letter to the Boston Globe last week:
... That is ... what is now and has been the problem. ...[On April 26, 2011] several [Democratic Party] Representatives told me they could not "vote against the leadership".
Funny, I thought "the people" were the leadership, not some clown who thinks patronage is an acceptable means of family employment and who will probably be the next one indicted (unless there are too many involved to indict) [references to the line of speakers who have been indicted were edited out of the version of the letter which the Globe published on Sunday, April 30]. The House and Senate leadership have too much power and too often make the business of the people secondary to their own and big business's interests.
...Many of "our" legislators are more beholden to the insurance industry and health "care" providers than to "the people". They willingly accept "contributions" from those and other industries (far more than from Unions) and have become their lap dogs. What else could explain the lack of interest in addressing the real problem and holding the banking and financial institutions accountable for creating the financial crisis we are still in?
Regarding the insurance issue, why don't "our" politicians address the reasons behind the outrageous costs of health insurance, instead of trying to abrogate collective bargaining rights and force municipal and town workers onto the GIC (a move that would create only a fraction of the savings that REAL reform to the very profitable "nonprofit" insurance and healthcare industries would)?
Perhaps Patrick and Obama's raising over $900,000 last fall at the shindig thrown for the DNC by the CEO of the Caritas Healthcare system has something to do with that? No, of course not.
"We Are All Wisconsin" took on new meaning for people who believed that Wisconsin wouldn't happen here in Massachusetts or in the Northeast. Howie Hawkins, Co-Chair of the Green Party of New York, was correct when he discussed the uprisings in Madison earlier this year.
"Wisconsin showed us that working people don't have to roll over and just take the attacks on their living standards from the two major parties. In Wisconsin, the Republican Governor led the attacks. In NY, it has been a Democrat Governor, who began attacking public workers and their modest pensions months before he was elected. It's time for New Yorkers to reject the misinformation peddled by the two major parties. Three decades on unrelenting bipartisan assault on the living standards of average New Yorkers have resulted in the worst Depression in 70 plus years, the greatest income inequality since 1927 and a massive budget deficit from huge tax cuts to the rich. The people of NY needs to rise up and say that this austerity budget will not stand," said Hawkins.
The wealthiest 1% of New Yorkers now get 35% of the state's income, up from 10% in 1980.
Hawkins said that while he supported continuing the so-called millionaires tax rather than giving the wealthy a $5 billion tax cut by ending it, far more fundamental reform of the state tax system was needed to make the wealthy provide their fair share, invest in needed programs, and provide fiscal relief to school districts and local governments.
Restoring the state income tax system to the more progressive structure under Governor Rockefeller would provide a tax cut to 95% of New Yorkers while raising $8 billion in additional revenues. Hawkins would also stop rebating $14 billion annually from the stock transfer tax to Wall Street speculators and would raise about $10 billion this year by recapturing a small part of the trillion dollar taxpayer bailout of the crooks in the finance industry by instituting a 50% tax on bankers' bonuses.
I understand why town officials in Massachusetts are making loud calls for relief from health care costs. Beacon Hill has been cutting local aid to towns and communities while continuing the tax favors that are premised on a trickle-down philosophy of public favors.
Tax policies are regressive, but nothing is done to redress it. There are solutions that the Democrats won't touch. We greens will continue to be vocal for fair taxes and a change in budget priorities.
The 2006 health care bill in Massachusetts, which some call a 'reform' and which has set the stage for a similarly-premised national 'reform,' has been good to the insurance industry, but it has done nothing to cut health care costs nor to stave off personal bankruptcies. The imbalance between escalating health care costs and the abilities of towns to keep pace with those costs remains unsustainable. Perpetuating a failing regressive system is not the answer and it most certainly is not progress.
Although they haven't yet taken effective political action people are being just as loud about the shoddiness of their health care plans as town officials are about the expenses, but they are being ignored. Here in southern Berkshire County, in the 4th Berkshire District, over 70% of voters expressed support for a single payer health care system in November, 2010. I worked with MassCare to place this question on the ballot. Here is what MassCare has said about the actions last week of the Democratic Party-controlled House:
...the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a budget that would allow cities and towns to strip public employees of their right to bargain health care benefits.
This is tragic ...
... none of this is necessary. We are the only country in the world with costs as high, and growing as rapidly, as ours. In exchange for our high and rapidly rising costs, we actually get WORSE health outcomes and extraordinarily poor access to needed care. Health care is now about half of the state budget, consumes almost all of municipalities' new revenue each year, and we are getting literally nothing for our new spending each year.
A single payer plan for Massachusetts, which is not experimental and has been tried and proven around the globe, would save the state between $1.5 and $2 billion according to estimates from UMass economist Gerald Friedman. This would close our budget deficit. Municipalities, like all other employers, would pay a 7.5% payroll tax, and would not have to face rising health care premiums ever again. Almost all municipalities currently spend upwards of 15% of payroll on health care costs - the city of Boston, for example, spends about 20%.
We recently had a lively exchange within the Berkshire Greens Political Action Committee about single payer health care. This was in the context of prepration for the Green-Rainbow Party's 'initiative summit,' which ultimately identified single payer health care as a primary focus for the party - an issue that will encourage voters to take the political action of joining the Green-Rainbow Party and running on the slate of Green-Rainbow Party candidates who do not take insurance industry or any corporate money. Here is an excerpt from an e-mail that I sent while a group of us was discussing single payer health care.
The MA legislature is not interested in single payer. It's less interested now even moreso than it has been in recent memory. With far fewer than 20% of Beacon Hill, there are fewer co-sponsors of the single payer bill in this session than there were in last session (including three legislators who co-sponsored the bill last session but didn't co-sponsor the bill in the current session). This despite all the op-ed pieces written about the superiority of single payer, despite the indisputable economics, despite the fact that countries with single payer systems spend less and get better results. I loosely quote Dr. Kaplan, our Berkshire Greens PAC Chairman and PNHP activist, as he answered a question posed to him by a fellow GRP member a couple months ago: "The problem is not one of economics [or of affordability or of better outcomes]; it's one of politics."
The voters have stated a preference though, as evidenced by the results of Question 4 here in the 2nd and 4th Berkshire Districts. Let's help the voters to swing a bit and throw some punches and win some elections. The Berkshire delegation have all co-sponsored the single payer bill, true, but somehow one doesn't hear them talking much about single payer as a solution to the grave issues and health care cost burdens that are strangling our towns, local businesses, and people. They likely don't feel they really need to because voters haven't decided yet to start swinging and punching.
There are plenty of articles published these days in the press where these very same legislators who co-sponsor single payer health care are offering other 'solutions' [like what they voted on this week] to the problems. Sadly one doesn't hear these legislators talking about single payer very much, at least not to the people who need to hear it. Correct me if I'm wrong; I'd like to be directed to the news article or to the text of a public statement where these legislators pro-actively talk about single payer, educate and advocate to a confused public, and debunk the myths that are circulated by the insurance industry proxies. I only hear these legislators in the Berkshires, who co-sponsor single payer bills, talk about single payer when they're speaking before a group of already-convinced single payer advocates. Preaching to the choir doesn't advance anything.
I recently attended a Select Committee meeting in Lenox where the Finance Committee reported another painful prognosis of the town budget. The committee must consider canceling/scaling back its retirees' health care plans due to escalating health care costs. Medicare has been stripped so much (thanks to certain lobbying interests) that supplements from private/for-profit insurers are required for essential medical services.
Excuse me! I just returned from a visit to a country that has nearly gone bankrupt (Iceland), but which is determined to keep its single payer health care system intact. No Icelander, even now, goes bankrupt, no one goes into crippling debt when they get sick, no one is denied the care they need, life expectancy is longer than ever, people are healthy. Here , the New York Times blithely tells us that being uninsured or underinsured is a 'necessary consequence' of the times. Well, the future bodes better for those countries that take care of essential needs - who view people's health as part of its economic infrastructure. Most democracies have realized this, and their voters - both progressive and conservative - would summarily reject anything at all that, here, would be considered a 'reform.' Anywhere else in the world a politician who peddled what Obama and Romney have peddled would be run out of town. They wouldn't dare - conservative or progressive. Our model is what the rest of the world rightly avoids.
Aren't we tired yet of being Number 37 in world health care rankings, and of falling further behind? Aren't we tired and fed up with showing the world the model to be avoided?
Our legislators, even those who co-sponsor the single payer bills, are not doing enough. They deserve the challenge that our Berkshire Greens PAC will help to mobilize locally and that the Green-Rainbow Party is working to mobilize statewide.
As voters take political action we'll be strengthened. So join us. We then become stronger.
Join us, too, in Boston this Thursday and in our upcoming campaigns as we protest regressive taxes and regressive benefits - paying more and getting less. We'll make the case for progressive alternatives that have been ignored. If we're not heard on the streets or active at the polls we're ignored. Wisconsin must mobilize and so must Massachusetts.