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Healthcare Is a Human Right
News Bulletin

March 2015

Healthcare Is a Human Right is a people’s movement organizing state by state to win universal, publicly financed health care and build a society that puts people’s needs ahead of profits. This is a monthly newsletter from the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign Collaborative (formed by the campaigns in Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, as well as NESRI).

In this newsletter:

Calendar:

  • March 26, Portland, ME: First SMWC Media Committee meeting
  • March 27, Portland, ME: SMWC co-sponsors a talk by Black Lives Matter leader Alicia Garza
  • March 28, Portland, ME: SMWC Political Education Committee’s first meeting
  • March 28, Seattle: James Haslam from Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) and Margaret Flowers from Healthcare Is a Human Right - Maryland (HCHR-MD) join Seattle Supervisor Kshama Sawant to speak at PNHP-Western Washington’s annual public meeting
  • April 4, Portland, ME: SMWC HCHR member meeting
  • April 12, Lancaster, PA: PPF Organizing Institute
  • April 12, Burlington, VT: VWC’s People’s Media Institute
  • May 1, Montpelier, VT: VWC’s annual May Day Rally
  • May 5, Albany, NY: Campaign for New York Health rally and lobby day at the New York State Capitol
  • May 29 - 31, New York City: Left Forum
  • June 1 - 13, Belhaven, NC, to Washington, DC: March to save rural hospitals
  • June 4, Baltimore: National Conference for Worker Safety and Health, where National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), Labor for Single Payer, and other allies will discuss integration of workers’ compensation into universal, publicly financed health care
  • July 30 - August 2, nationwide: Healthcare-NOW! and National Nurses United are helping to coordinate locally led regional actions to mark the 50th anniversary of Medicare

Campaign news:

Vermont

After a series of actions at the Statehouse protesting Governor Shumlin’s failure to act on public health care financing, on February 26 the Vermont Workers’ Center and NESRI released the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign’s own financing plan, a detailed report with cost and revenue projections guided by human rights principles. The plan uses the Governor’s proposals, released in December, as a springboard for designing a more equitable revenue model, including a progressive payroll tax based on business size and wage discrepancy, as well as a tax on stocks, dividends, capital gains and financial transactions. The plan demonstrates that public financing is not only economically feasible, but would greatly enhance access to care and reduce income inequality.

Financing plan released at the StatehouseThe Campaign’s plan was accompanied by a letter of support for public financing signed by over 100 economists from across the country, and by a short video produced by the Campaign. National media coverage included reports in Common Dreams, Think Progress, and Between the Lines.

Following the report release, the Campaign introduced H. 475, a bill modeled on the financing plan. While this bill is unlikely to move forward, it may serve as a basis for mandating the design of a new financing plan, this time by the independent board rather than the governor. Campaign members are discussing these options with their representatives.

Legislative engagement is just one component of a three-pronged campaign strategy designed to enable the implementation of Act 48, Vermont’s universal health care law, in the near future. In addition to pushing for equitable financing, the Campaign is putting forward an anti-corporate focus that lifts up stories from the health care crisis and highlights how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) benefits corporations more than people. A new health care hotline collects stories, specifically from people saddled with tax bills due to miscalculated ACA subsidy payments.

To expand the Campaign’s base and build a broader movement, the VWC is holding a series of Community Dialogues that address economic and social rights issues beyond health care. These may culminate in another People's Convention, following the successful 2012 People’s Convention that produced the Vermont Declaration of Human Rights.  

All campaign and movement building actions will converge at a large march and rally on May Day 2015, to which allies from across the country are warmly invited.

Maine

SMWC logoThe Southern Maine Workers’ Center (SMWC) held its annual meeting on March 7. Over 80 people attended the event, including representatives from the Vermont Workers’ Center, and 30 new members signed up. The meeting featured SMWC’s first membership orientation and member-led board elections in the organization’s history, as well as breakout groups for the HCHR campaign, the Work with Dignity campaign, and the development of two new committees: Political Education and Media. SMWC also unveiled its new logo at the annual meeting.

SMWC Annual Meeting

In the months ahead, SMWC will be doing tabling and presentations across six counties at Unitarian Universalist churches, fairs, and, in collaboration with the Maine State Nurses Association, at free clinics. The HCHR campaign has written up its campaign story to explain where the campaign has come from and where it’s going, and it is holding trainings on SMWC’s health care survey as a tool to facilitate conversations about health care and to collect data on people’s experience in and opinions on the health care system. The campaign is pushing to gather 1,000 surveys between now and February 2016.

SMWC and its partners in the Maine HCHR coalition are operating in a difficult political environment after the reelection of conservative Governor Paul LePage in November. The Governor continues to block Medicaid expansion, which is personally affecting many of SMWC’s members and threatening the survival of community health clinics, and he is also attacking Portland’s General Assistance program and shelter system, which support residents in meeting their most fundamental needs. SMWC has responded with a powerful statement that challenges the Governor’s racist and xenophobic austerity narrative by pointing out that Maine has sufficient money for its public budget, but has failed to make budget decisions based on human needs.

Maryland

Healthcare Is a Human Right - Maryland has spent the winter assessing its core capacities and the political terrain in Maryland, and is developing strategies for the next phase of the campaign, with the continued goal of growing a movement that unites Maryland’s residents across color lines. The campaign is considering actions against the privatization of Medicaid in the state and has been working with allies on a campaign for statewide paid sick leave.

Pennsylvania

Put People First! PA has formally adopted a medium-term campaign focusing on public health, as part of its long-term Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign. A human rights crisis has been unfolding in Southwestern PA just 20 miles south of where PPF-PA co-founder Nijmie Dzurinko grew up. A coal ash dump in LaBelle is poisoning the 300-member community as well as the 2,600 inmates and workers at State Correctional Institution Fayette, where all of the license plates in the Commonwealth are produced. PPF-PA will be organizing the families of incarcerated people who live in Southeast PA into one or more organizing committees of PPF, where they will become part of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign while also building power to demand a special audit of the situation at the prison. Additionally, PPF-PA will support the organizing of LaBelle residents, and work to bring these communities together, along with the prison guards. PPF will work in collaboration with the Center for Coalfield Justice and the Human Rights Coalition.

Over the coming months, PPF-PA members will be starting to meet with legislators and develop a policy vision for the HCHR campaign, drawing on knowledge and support from allies. PPF-PA teams will also be developing an internal and external program of political education and leadership development to equip leaders and community members with skills to address and stand up against systemic oppression on the basis of race, immigration status, and gender, while uniting diverse communities. This program is being developed with PPF member and professor Jamie Longazel,with leadership from the Political Education Team and the University of the Poor and with support from NESRI.

PPF-PA is also welcoming Sheila Quintana as its new Southeast PA Field Organizer. Sheila is deeply rooted in immigrant communities and has been an organizer with DreamActivist PA and the Fight for Drivers Licenses. Her work has focused on stopping deportations and claiming and expanding the rights of immigrants through education, advocacy and direct action. She's very excited to expand her circle of concern to include diverse PA communities across Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware Counties. Sheila replaces outgoing organizer Alia Trindle, who built a strong base for PPF in Southeast Pennsylvania and helped grow and shape PPF and the HCHR campaign in 2014.


News from allies:

North Carolina

Forward Together / Moral Mondays held its 2015 Moral March on Raleigh on February 14. PPF-PA member Dan Jones joined the march and reflected, “This kind of moral movement demands a basic transformation of the priorities of our society. It demands that we put people first and hold up human rights and the sacredness of human life above everything else. I see Put People People First! PA and many others building this kind of movement in PA, and I'm heartened and encouraged by the example in North Carolina.”

On March 23, Forward Together/Moral Mondays’ People’s Grand Jury handed down their indictment of North Carolina’s elected leaders for failing to protect the health of the people of North Carolina by blocking Medicaid expansion. The People’s Grand Jury heard testimony in February and March; videos of both hearings are available online.

Texas

Nuestra Texas held a human rights march and tribunal in Brownsville, Texas, on International Women’s Day. Some 200 people marched in pouring rain demanding “salud, dignidad y justicia” (health, dignity and justice). The march led to a community event where leaders spoke about the acute women’s health crisis in Texas after the legislature closed down Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. Cathy Albisa from NESRI attended the events.

The primary health care system for women in Texas has been devastated. The State’s policies have block residents who are not citizens, whether documented or undocumented, from insurance coverage and access to affordable care. Even citizens with insurance have difficulty accessing care because there are simply not enough providers after the clinics closed down. And women without documentation who live near the border often cannot get care because they cannot travel through internal immigration check points within Texas in order to get to one of the few remaining clinics.

Cancer appears to be common in the region. At the tribunal, women testified that they were living with tumors in their breasts or uterus but had no way of knowing if they were life threatening because they could not get diagnosed. Mothers stated that their biggest fear was not knowing whether they were dying and leaving their children behind. Stories were shared of women who got sick and died without ever receiving care, and children being sent into foster care. Women with four or five children spoke about their unmet need for family planning, knowing they could not afford to feed another child. All of these leaders testified powerfully about the intersection of poverty, immigration status, gender and access to care. They provided clear and compelling analysis about the human rights violations they were suffering. Despite the genuine horrors shared, the sense of unity and hope was overpowering. All the members of Nuestra Texas eloquently called for a human rights solution, for building community power and for working in solidarity with a broader movement. The women call themselves “las poderas” (the powerful ones), and indeed they are.

For more information, visit www.nuestrotexas.org (also available in Spanish) and read a 2013 report from the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (English | Spanish).

Oregon

On February 11, some 1,200 people rallied and met with legislators at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem. The event was organized by the Health Care for All - Oregon coalition in support of two bills that it is pushing in the State Legislature. The Health Care for All Oregon Act would establish universal, publicly financed health care in Oregon; and the second bill, HB2828, would commit the state to fully funding a study of possible health care systems for Oregon. HCAO is also considering whether to take up a ballot measure to commit the state to treating health care as a human right.

New York

On May 5, people in New York will hold a rally and lobby day at the Capitol in Albany to support the New York Health Act, a bill to create a universal, publicly financed health care system in the state. The bill, according to a new study by economist Gerald Friedman for the Campaign for New York Health, would save 14,000 lives by expanding access to health care, and yet would cost families, businesses, and the public $45 million less than maintaining the existing market-based insurance system.

Poor People’s Campaign

VWC, PPF, SMWC, and United Workers (which anchors HCHR-MD) have endorsed the call for a new Poor People’s Campaign. The new campaign follows from Dr. Martin Luther King’s original Poor People’s Campaign, and, in its first phase, is bringing together organizations led by poor people to advance human dignity and human rights.
 

Health news:

The Supreme Court Challenge to the ACA: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments the first week of March in King v. Burwell, the court case questioning whether the Affordable Care Act grants the federal government authority to subsidize health insurance for 7 million people who live in one of the 34 states using the federal health insurance exchange. Observers are watching Justice Anthony Kennedy closely, whose questions indicated that his vote is in play: if he sides with the Court’s four liberal justices to uphold ACA, the insurance subsidies will stand; if he sides with the Court’s other conservative justices, the federal insurance exchange will fall apart. The fate of people’s access to care is of particular concern in Florida, where over 1.6 million people obtain their health insurance through the federal exchange, and 93% of them receive subsidies.

In a reflection of the immense profits being made off of the commodification of health care, Justice Kennedy’s statements in support of the ACA’s insurance subsidies sent the stocks of publicly traded hospitals, which are concentrated in Florida and Texas, soaring.

Health care spending is growing: New data from the Altarum Institute reveal that health care spending has grown dramatically in the first year of the Affordable Care Act, up 5% overall in 2014. While some of this growth can be attributed to increased utilization of care from people newly covered by insurance, much of the acceleration is associated with growing costs of prescription drugs and insurance. Drug spending was up 13%, and administration and health insurance expenditures increased by 11%. Health care spending now accounts for 18% of the U.S. gross domestic product. A national survey conducted in October reveals that 90% of people worry about how to pay for unexpected medical bills. This rate has held steady for the past three years, showing no indication that the ACA has done anything to increase people’s sense of security. One new study, meanwhile, analyzed insurers’ financial filings over the three years since the ACA first required insurers to spend 80-85% of premiums on actual medical care, and found that the law has done nothing to reduce the percentage of insurer expenditures on such things as administration, marketing and profits. A second study found that because of the U.S.’s multi-payer market-based insurance system, a quarter of hospitals’ budgets are consumed by administration, far more than in other countries.

Rural hospitals shutting down nationwide: Dozens of rural hospitals have been forced to close their doors since 2010 because of inadequate public funding. The Affordable Care Act reduced payments to hospitals for uninsured patients, yet as many states have refused to expand Medicaid, health care needs have not declined. The community of Belhaven, North Carolina, fought to oppose the closure of its local hospital, and is organizing a march from Belhaven to Washington, DC, from June 1 through June 13. Allies are invited to join. Stay tuned for more information in our April and May Bulletins.

New York State prisons deny women reproductive health care and reproductive decision-making: A powerful report from the Women in Prison Project of the Correctional Association of New York finds that women in New York State prisons are denied adequate access to quality reproductive healthcare. The report includes a set of recommendations for the State Legislature and the Governor, including reducing New York’s prison population, expanding funding for gender-specific, community-based alternative-to-incarceration and reentry programs, and building accountability mechanisms into laws to protect pregnant women and new mothers from shackling, solitary confinement, and other harmful forms of punishment. An article in Health and Human Rights Journal explains that perinatal shackling remains the standard in most U.S. states. The authors provide an overview of the laws and regulations governing perinatal shackling, and say that while a federal ban is very unlikely in the foreseeable future, state-based organizing efforts to advance the human rights and dignity of women are showing progress.

Ninety years after insulin was developed, many people with diabetes can’t afford it: As NPR reports, a new article in the New England Journal of Medicine explores the history of how drug companies have marketed and priced insulin to maximize their profits. This market-based approach to drug pricing leaves many people without access to the crucial drug. The marketization of insulin helps illuminate the problems that arise from treating health care as a commodity rather than a public good, and mirrors recent concerns over the marketization of breast milk, renewed proposals to marketize human kidneys, and, as renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs write, the profit-driven pricing of drugs at hundreds of times what they cost to produce. Overall, according to a new study, spending on prescription drugs went up 13% in 2014, and drug companies have been found to be systematically obfuscating the money they pay to doctors who prescribe their drugs. As Northeastern University law professor Brook Baker explains in a recent interview, when it comes to pharmaceuticals, human rights and proprietary intellectual property rights compete head to head, but while patents are fiercely protected by drug companies, human rights have no comparable enforcement mechanism built into the law. This means, he says, that human rights “lack teeth against many of the main perpetrators who are private actors – international corporations who do the most structural harm to access to medicines.” The solution, says Baker, lies in social movements that strategically deploy a human rights framework to advance structural change.

TPP threatens access to medicines: The U.S. government is currently in secret negotiations with 10 other governments of Pacific Rim countries on a proposed trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Leaked documents reveal that, among other things, the TPP would advance the profit interests of pharmaceutical companies by extending monopolies on drugs and thereby closing off people’s access to generic drugs, which would particularly harm those in poorer countries. The TPP would also require patenting of surgical, therapeutic, and diagnostic methods, which would create barriers for accessing these treatments. Check out this very helpful fact sheet from Doctors without Borders for more information on how the TPP would block access to medicine, and read calls for transparency and accountability from National Nurses United, doctors, Rev. Dr. William Barber II, economist Joseph Stiglitz, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Representatives Raul M. Grijalva and Keith Ellison.

With billions in the bank, Blue Shield of California loses its state tax-exempt status: The Los Angeles Times reports that the giant private health insurer Blue Shield of California, which claims 3 million members and $13.6 billion in annual revenue, was quietly stripped of its nonprofit status by the State of California last summer. (The LA Times broke the story after a 7-month delay.) The insurer had been established as a "mutual benefit" nonprofit "dedicated to charitable, religious or public purposes," according to California corporation law. This exempted Blue Shield from paying tens of millions of dollars in state taxes each year. (The insurer has donated $200 million to a foundation that it set up, about 5% of the $4.2 billion it holds in reserves. Of the $200 million, the foundation has given out $34 million in grants—less than 1% of Blue Shield’s reserves—to projects chosen by the foundation’s board, half of whose members are Blue Shield executives.) After controversy over Blue Shields’ billions of dollars in reserves, large rate hikes, and exorbitant executive pay, the State conducted an audit, which resulted in its decision to require the company to pay state taxes. Blue Shield’s long-time public policy director resigned this month after 12 years at the company, saying it had been "shortchanging the public" for years; he is now leading a campaign to require the company to turn over its reserves to the state to finance public health programs.

Indiana’s Medicaid expansion imposes premiums and copays and creates inequitable access: In a dangerous development, Indiana will become the first state to require a broad part of the poor population to pay premiums in order to be enrolled in Medicaid. People with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty line will be required to pay up to 2% of their income as premiums. If they fail to pay those premiums and are just above the poverty line, they will be locked out of Medicaid (and thus health care access) for six months. If they are below the poverty line and fail to pay premiums, they will be charged co-pays and enrolled in a less comprehensive plan that will deny them vision, dental, and other health care that people above the poverty line have access to. By granting Indiana a waiver that essentially changes the nature of Medicaid - from facilitating access to care for poor people to obstructing their access - the federal government has set a precedent for further undermining this important public program. As the politics of Medicaid expansion continue to play out state by state, 22 states continue deny health care to millions of people in poverty. In a rare case of good news, however, Pennsylvania will fully transition by September from a plan much like Indiana’s that prioritized market ideology to a Medicaid expansion that prioritizes access to care.

Doctors speak out on why Black Lives Matter: In three opinion pieces in the New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the American Medical Association [1 2 3], doctors are speaking out about how racism hurts the health of Black people in the United States, and are calling for critical research on racism in health care; more hiring, promotion, training, and retention of staff of color in medicine; forming partnerships to meet patients’ needs; and more discussion within the medical professions of racial health disparities and implicit bias. For more, check out Healthcare NOW!’s readers’ guide to racial equity in health care.



If you have questions, have anything you want to see in the HCHR Bulletin, or have a story to share, contact ben@nesri.org.

Copyright © 2015 National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, All rights reserved.


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