March 10, 2017
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY - New York’s largest health-care workers union’ began organizing to defend Obamacare against repeal as soon as last November’s election was over.
“We knew this was going to be high on the agenda,” Helen Schaub, 1199SEIU’s state director of policy and legislation, told LaborPress.
In New York, the union has concentrated its efforts in the nine congressional districts represented by Republicans, including Reps. Chris Collins between Rochester and Buffalo, John Faso between Kingston and Oneonta, and Lee Zeldin on eastern Long Island. It’s educating community members and health-care providers in them to “understand what the impact is going to be,” says Schaub.
In January, 1199 organized a rally at Collins’ office in Williamsville, estimating that more than 200,000 people in his district would lose their health care if the Affordable Care Act were repealed without being replaced. In February, it protested outside two Faso fundraisers, in Albany and Fort Orange. On Feb. 14, members delivered “have a heart” Valentine’s Day cards to Reps. Elise Stefanik and Claudia Tenney’s offices upstate.
It’s also held “What’s Happening to My Health Care?” town meetings in several districts, from Lockport to Syracuse to Central Islip. The Congressmembers were invited, but invariably didn’t show up. (In February, Long Island Newsday ran a cartoon of Zeldin barricaded in his office, hiding out not from terrorists, but from “constituents.”)
Nationally, 1199 is working with the international SEIU and health-care groups, placing ads in states where Republican senators have supported preserving Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, such as Ohio and Colorado. It’s also lobbying the Republican governors of Maryland and Massachusetts, and Congressmembers in Florida and New Jersey. In January, 47 people where arrested at an SEIU-organized sit-in at Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office in Washington.
The House Republicans’ American Health Care Act, introduced March 6, is “every bit as bad as we were fearing it would be,” says Schaub. Its replacement of Obamacare’s subsidies for working-class people to buy insurance with tax credits not adjusted for income or regional costs will be bad for poorer people and “particularly bad for people over 50,” she says.
If the bill is passed, its changes to Medicaid “are going to be disastrous,” she says. It would phase out both Obamacare’s extension of Medicaid to people marginally above poverty level and the program’s covering all qualified medical expenses for people eligible. It would replace that with a flat per-recipient payment to states—and the increases in those payments, Schaub adds, are designed to be less than increases in health-care costs.
A study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities released March 8 estimated that this would shift a total of $370 billion in costs to states over the next 10 years. Those cuts, it said, “would starve states of the resources needed to continue covering low-income adults” and force them “to restrict eligibility, reduce the services Medicaid covers, cut payments to hospitals and other providers, or, most likely, a combination of all three approaches to rationing care.” What that saved the federal government, it added, would be more than offset by the bill’s tax cuts for millionaires, drug companies, and insurers.
Medicaid cuts would particularly affect long-term nursing-home and home health care, where many 1199 members work, as do SEIU Healthcare members in states like Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota. The union organized long-term-care providers to send Congressmembers a letter about how that would affect them, Schaub says.
In New York, she says, the state has enough of a tax base to continue financing some of this coverage, but the loss of federal funds would mean that would have to compete with things like education.
That loss would also make it much harder for the state to set up its own Medicare-for-all health-care system, she adds. The union supports the goal of a single-payer system, but for now, defending the Affordable Care Act is a bigger priority.
“Short-term, everybody is on the same program,” Schaub says. “Everybody understands we’ve got to beat this back.”