Standing our ground!

In the past months, our union has displayed leadership in the protection of patients and their communities on every level. The onslaught against the Affordable Care Act, with a plan that would devastate healthcare for millions of families was an all-out attempt at undercutting healthcare in America while transferring billions of dollars to the richest people in our country.

Working with other unions, healthcare consumer groups, elected officials, health care providers, religious organizations, immigrant rights groups, community based organizations, public health professionals and many others, we joined forces to stop the dangerous legislative proposals for now. But we must remain vigilant as Congress reconvenes in early September!

As nurses we bring both moral and professional authority which is very powerful. People listen when we speak out against any plan that puts our patients in jeopardy, our communities at risk and our professional standards in question.

Congressional stalemate

After months of trying, it became clear that a sizable group in Congress had no real plans to replace the Affordable Care Act, or to move the country towards guaranteed health care for all. Rather, this group was exposed for trying to eliminate the ACA, and in doing so, destroy healthcare altogether. Many senators found themselves in a quagmire because all of the proposals were extremely unpopular across all demographics. The various versions of the legislation never got above 20% approval from the country as a whole! The Administration and Senate Republicans floundered amongst a variety of different plans that would have deprived millions of Americans of health insurance and done little to contain the high costs that make it hard for poorer, sicker people to have their medical needs taken care of.

This July, the Senate failed to pass three different repeal bills. One bill, which would have undermined the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions and cut Medicaid so significantly that the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would throw millions of people off of health insurance, failed by 10 votes. Another bill, which would have eliminated all of the ACA’s subsidies for poor and middle-class people to buy health insurance and which was estimated to throw 32 million people off of health insurance, failed by 7 votes.

The Senate came closest to passing a bill that simply would have eliminated the mandates for individuals to buy health insurance and for large employers to provide it. The bill would have further destabilized the health insurance market and was unpopular even amongst Senators who voted for it. However, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona joined with Democrats and voted against it, sinking the bill.

Some in Congress are not giving up, however, and are moving on with several different replacement proposals. One bad proposal is Senator Lindsay Graham’s legislation. His bill would give funds to each state to allow them to provide health insurance for their residents, but the way the funds would be distributed would penalize large states like New York with high Medicaid populations. New York would struggle to provide health insurance for New Yorkers, and hospital budgets would suffer significantly.

There are other proposals that are emerging as we go to press. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray are holding hearings on how to contain rising premiums on the individual market, and on how to ensure that everyone who buys health insurance as an individual has access to a health insurance plan. Several Republicans and Democrats in the House have formed a “Problem Solvers Caucus” and have put together a proposal that also seeks to contain premiums. Their proposal would put more money towards the sickest patients, but it would also allow states to limit the amount of health insurance provided to consumers, depriving them of comprehensive care.

Uncertainty rattles health insurers

The Administration has threatened to not fund subsidies provided for in the ACA that reduce copays and deductibles for people buying insurance on the individual market. Without certainty that these funds will come through, health insurance companies have been planning to raise premiums and threatening to pull out of certain areas entirely, making it much harder for many people to buy health insurance. In fact, in recent days, some insurers, including here in New York State, have pulled out threatening chaos in the healthcare of New Yorkers and Americans.

NYSNA has stood its ground: we demand that no plan take away existing coverage and we seek to build alliances in and out of government towards the goal of real guaranteed healthcare for all. In New York State, we have the right policy to bring this chaos to an end. The New York Health Act, passed by the state assembly and supported by 32 members of the state senate would not only protect New Yorkers from losing their healthcare, but also ensure that everyone gets the care they need! A new bill will be introduced soon in the US Senate by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont that would also guarantee healthcare for all in a Medicare For All system. It deserves our support! The determination of our members resonates in our hospitals, communities and in government institutions. We will not back down!

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