December 12, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—U.S. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) introduced a bill in 2009 to establish a single-payer health system in the United States that would provide coverage to every single working American, similar to national health systems in Canada and the United Kingdom. The bill currently has 53 co-sponsors in Congress and Conyers hopes to have 150 on board before the current 113th Session of Congress ends on January 3, 2015.
He recently visited New York City and spoke about the bill’s status, H.R. 676 or commonly known as the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act, to single-payer advocates, physicians, union members and the New York City Central Labor Council, which passed a resolution in the summer supporting the legislation.
Conyers said it wouldn’t be easy building the necessary support in the Congress and among the public but that’s not dissuading him. He told participants at the event that it doesn’t matter to him how long it takes. He recalled that four days after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, he introduced a bill to make his birthday a national holiday.
“It took 15 years before Congress joined with me to make Dr. King’s birthday a national legal holiday. So I’m in this for the long run,” said Congressman Conyers.
As difficult as it might be to build additional support for a single-payer health system, especially after the implementation of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Conyers said growing labor support for a national health system could be a game changer.
Mark Dudzic, a board member for Healthcare-NOW!, a national organization lobbying for a single-payer health system, said that the city’s CLC support will advance significantly the prospects of a national health care system in the United States.
“This is the largest central labor council in the United States and the fact they are now fully on board for single payer means we are going to win this fight,” said Dudzic.
According to Conyers, H.R. 676 would create a publicly financed, privately delivered healthcare system that uses the already existing Medicare program by expanding and improving it to all U.S. residents. Healthcare services covered include all medically necessary services such as primary care, inpatient care, prescription drugs, mental health services and substance abuse treatment, among others.
Advocates for a single-payer system, such as the Physicians for a National Health Program, say that the United States could realize substantial cost savings by transitioning away from a for-profit to a single-payer health plan. The organization recently cited on its website (http://bit.ly/1e5O3CA) a study by Gerald Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
According to Friedman, $476 billion in savings could be realized in the first-year of operation of a single-payer plan by slashing insurance companies’ administrative waste. A new public system’s sheer size would give it more bargaining muscle to negotiate lower prices for pharmaceutical drugs, yielding another $116 billion in savings.
David Sterrett of Public Citizen asked the Congressman during the event whether progressive members of Congress would recommit to supporting his bill now that the Affordable Care Act is law. Conyers believes so.
“We’ve got to remember that ACA can be changed and improved too. Once that becomes known, I think we’ll get a double benefit—more support for single-payer and by doing that we’ll solve the inconsistencies of ACA,” Conyers said.