Pennsylvania workers handed Joe Biden the electoral college victory to become the next president of our country. On Nov. 7, at the rally organized by UNITE HERE Local 274, I spoke on behalf of my brothers and sisters in BMWED-IBT (Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters) about the significance of this achievement and the long road ahead. Particularly, I’m looking ahead to our fight for Medicare for All in Pennsylvania and across the nation. While centrist Democrats have blamed electoral losses in the House and Senate on progressives radical demands, House Democrats who supported Medicare for All were overwhelmingly reelected.
This should be no surprise: Medicare for All is popular among voters on both sides of the aisle. On election night, an astounding 71% of voters in Pennsylvania supported giving every American access to government-run healthcare, per a Fox poll.
During election week, the Supreme Court heard another challenge to the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), now the most challenged statute in modern American history — but which looks likely to be upheld. Through the ACA, well over a million Pennsylvanians gained access to health insurance, about 300,000 through the state exchange and another 800,000 through Medicaid expansion. This cut the number of uninsured Pennsylvania residents in half.
The expansion of coverage through the ACA made healthcare a reality for millions of Americans. But the pandemic has revealed just how fragile and backward our healthcare system still is. Millions of Americans experienced the double loss of their job and employer-provided health insurance. Coupled with the 28 million already living without insurance, many Americans have been struggling to cover their own medical costs. Now is the time to make healthcare a right for everyone.
In spite of this crisis and overwhelming evidence that Pennsylvanians want a single payer health insurance system, local House Democrats Dwight Evans, Mary Gay Scanlon, Madeleine Dean still refuse to support two critical healthcare measures before Congress. Most immediately, the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act (HCEGA), introduced by Representative Pramila Jayapal and Senator Bernie Sanders, would enroll any resident of the United States without health insurance in Medicare for the duration of the pandemic. Beyond the pandemic, the Medicare for All Act, also sponsored by Representative Jayapal and Senator Sanders, would make these emergency measures the reality for Americans and move us toward a government-run healthcare system.
Anyone who believes this sounds like a pipe dream, consider: Richard Nixon supported universal health care, created the Environmental Protection Act, and signed Occupational Safety and Health Act to protect workers — even though he was no friend to the American working class. Republicans under Nixon conceded to these reforms because working people organized and forced the politicians at the time to respond to the needs of our class and make these important concessions to us.
And the alternatives currently championed by mainstream congressional Democrats do not meet the needs of average American workers. Their proposal, a COBRA plan that would subsidize premiums for private health insurance companies, would cost taxpayers $72 billion more than the HCEGA and would still leave out millions of workers. If the intended goal is to actually provide healthcare, the COBRA plan fails miserably.
Local unions, including my own, strongly favor the HCEGA over the COBRA plan. In August 2020, the leaders of 25 local Philadelphia unions called on Dean, Scanlon, and Evans to cosponsor and help to push the HCEGA through Congress. In response to the letter, all three offices agreed to meet with members of our unions, but they have not signed on to the bills.
So why don’t our members support expanding access to healthcare for Pennsylvania? Perhaps because health insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield have given tens of thousands of dollars to Evans, Scanlon, and Dean’s campaigns. I am sick and tired of hearing what is achievable and affordable from politicians who confer with an army of corporate lobbyists. These same politicians enjoy first-class healthcare paid for by taxpayers and we have every right to expect the same. It is our task to wake the American working class from our forty-year slumber and organize ourselves in such a way that our calls for change can no longer be ignored by our members of Congress.
Jed Dodd is National Vice President of the BMWED-Teamsters.