by James Parks, Jan 30, 2009
Reforming the nation’s health care system, including cost controls, is a critical part of any national economic fix, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said today, and he urged lawmakers and the White House to make it an urgent priority.
Speaking to the 21st Annual Conference on Social Insurance, Fiscal Responsibility, and Economic Growth in Washington, D.C., Sweeney said the union movement is ratcheting up its commitment to creating a national system of affordable health care:
"This year, we’re adding a sword’s point to that commitment: We have no time left for dithering, we’re in a perilous economic ditch, and we will not dig our way out and fix our economy until we fix our health care system."
The conference was hosted by the National Academy of Social Insurance, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization made up of the nation’s leading experts on social insurance issues, such as Social Security, Medicare and workers’ compensation. Its mission is to promote understanding of how social insurance contributes to economic security and a vibrant economy. Click here to read Sweeney’s entire speech.
Any health care reform must not only provide dependable delivery of service, Sweeney said, but contain costs as well.
"In health care reform, the single toughest issue is cost control—without cost savings, the debates over financing and the relative roles of public and private insurance programs are useless. National health care reform without cost controls is like moving furniture into a burning house."
Workers understand that the nation’s health care crisis contributed in large part to the current economic collapse, Sweeney said.
"We in labor know the sad history all too well—we’ve been trying to bargain good wages for our members for all those years, and having to forego pay increases to maintain our benefits and keep premiums and co-payments under control.
"The bottom line is that health care costs have been picking the pockets of working families for a long time. After basic expenses, families have been left with less and less money to spend and save, and that has undermined the corner of our economy we call consumer spending."
All stakeholders in the health care system—government, employers, insurers, workers, the medical community and pharmaceutical companies—will have to accept “their responsibilities when it comes to controlling costs and guaranteeing quality care,” Sweeney added.
"For the first time in many years, we have the political advantage when it comes to meaningful health care reform, and we must seize the moment.
"We must do it not only for the sake of the young, the old, the poor, the working poor, and the middle class who are depending on us, but in order to turn our economy around and make it work for everyone."
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