Health and Safety

Health-Care Unions Picket Pro-Trumpcare Pol on Eve of Vote

March 24, 2017 
By Steven Wishnia

New York, NY – It was supposed to be a $500-a-plate dinner, but the protesters got the food. Rep. Lee Zeldin had scheduled the fundraiser for Mar. 23 at the Hunt and Fish Club restaurant on West 44th Street near Times Square. A group of 50 to 75 people picketed outside denouncing the Suffolk County Republican’s support for “Trumpcare,” the American Health Care Act, which would repeal the health-insurance subsidies of Obamacare and drastically slash Medicaid.

“Zeldin seems to hate health-care workers, nurses, people on Medicaid, people on Medicare,” Michael Kink of Strong Economy for All said, leading the crowd in a mic-check call-and-response. “Which side are you on?” 

The bill is a “campaign to make America sick again,” said Karen Jarrett, an organizing director for the New York State Nurses Association.

But with the House vote on it postponed until the next morning while President Donald Trump and the Republican leadership tried to cobble together a majority, Zeldin decided to cancel the fundraiser. The Hunt and Fish Club decided to donate the buffet of pasta, salad, and soda to the remaining protesters.

The bill would cut off health-care coverage for 24 million Americans by 2026, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects. That would include 2.8 million in New York State and at least 89,000 in Zeldin’s eastern Long Island district, according to estimates by the centrist-Democrat Center for American Progress based on the CBO figures. It would also eliminate 33,000 health-care jobs in the state within five years and 600,000 nationwide, NYSNA and 1199SEIU say. And it would give states the option of taking “just a chunk of money” for Medicaid,” said Mark Hannay of Metro New York Health Care for All, instead of paying for care for everyone on the program.

In a letter to constituents posted on Facebook Mar. 22, Zeldin disputed the CBO’s 24 million figure, saying that the CBO had arrived at that number “primarily because individuals will be free to choose whether or not to obtain health insurance without penalty,” and many would choose not to. The CBO had predicted that many people would not buy insurance because the tax credits the bill would give them for it would cover much less of its cost than the Obamacare subsidies, especially for people 50 to 64. 

In a letter to constituents posted on Facebook Mar. 22, Zeldin disputed the CBO’s 24 million figure, saying that the CBO had arrived at that number “primarily because individuals will be free to choose whether or not to obtain health insurance without penalty,” and many would choose not to. The CBO had predicted that many people would not buy insurance because the tax credits the bill would give them for it would cover much less of its cost than the Obamacare subsidies, especially for people 50 to 64.

“These cuts in Medicaid and to the Affordable Care Act will devastate the system,” Moira Dolan of District Council 37, which represents 18,000 workers in the city hospital system, told LaborPress. “We care for people who are uninsured. We care for people who are in poverty. We care for people with multiple chronic diseases. And we don’t get reimbursed nearly enough now.”

If the bill goes through, she added, it would eliminate Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid to people just over the federal poverty line, the state Essential Health insurance for people with lower-working-class incomes, and possibly the Children’s Health Insurance Program—“all so that people who make more than $250,000 a year can get a tax cut and insurance companies can make more profit.”

“I work in the busiest emergency departments in the Bronx, which will be severely impacted by people seeking emergency care as well as primary care,” NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez said in a statement.  “If this bill passes, our ability to provide effective care will be unsustainable due to large numbers of people who will lose their coverage and will have no choice but to seek care in the emergency room. Our patients need absolute guarantees that they will have equal access to quality care in a health-care system that does not discriminate based upon income, age or residence.”

“The Republican plan is about slashing care for children, seniors, working families, and people with disabilities to give a $600 billion tax cut to the rich,” 1199SEIU President George Gresham said. The issue, he added, “speaks to the moral health of our nation. Do we believe that all Americans are connected to and responsible for each other? Or do we abandon our friends, coworkers, and neighbors to suffer alone with a chronic disease, heart attack, disability, addiction, cancer scare, or car accident, and the medical bankruptcy that can result?”

The two unions have been harrying the state’s nine Republican House members to oppose the bill, and two, including Dan Donovan of Staten Island, have come out against it. Trump and the House leadership were trying to put together a majority while assuaging the relatively moderate GOP members who feared that the bill would cut off health care for too many of their constituents—and simultaneously pleasing the hard-liners fuming that it would cut off too few.

March 24, 2017

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