# Maytag

Obama must deliver on health care

I don’t expect to get everything I want from Democratic politicians in power. Probably liberals like me will have plenty of disappointments in the coming years. But if Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress only follow through on one big campaign promise, I hope it’s health care.

The many injustices of our current health care system have been thoroughly documented by nyceve, among others, but I want to add my two cents.

The 46 million Americans lacking health insurance represent one very large part of problem. Some can’t afford insurance, and others can’t find a private insurer who will sell them a policy for any price. You could spend all day listing the ways uninsured Americans get a raw deal on health care. They can’t afford preventive care and routine diagnostics, so they are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage, incurable cancer. They are less likely to receive care for any number of chronic illnesses. They live with terrible, crippling pain. Few Americans without health insurance coverage are able to receive organ transplants, though many become organ donors after dying prematurely.

We need to get these people covered and get away from our broken employer-based health care system. Every day Americans who thought they had good benefits are joining the ranks of the uninsured–like my friend whose husband got laid off in October, right before his employer (a small manufacturer) went under. It turned out the boss had secretly stopped paying the health insurance premiums some time before. Or the retirees who worked at Maytag or at John Deere for many years and are now losing some of the health benefits they were promised.

Employer-based health care is also a huge drag on large corporations and our national economy, as clammyc pointed out in this recent diary.

In an ideal world, I’m for a Canadian-style single-payer system (also known as HR 676 or “Medicare for all”), but as a political compromise I would settle for something like what John Edwards and Hillary Clinton proposed during the primaries: mandatory health insurance, which would be portable with no exclusions for pre-existing conditions, and the option for any American to buy into a public insurance plan. Momentum is building in Congress for this kind of reform.

But getting Americans health insurance will solve only part of the problem. It’s shocking how many Americans with “good” insurance go without needed medical care. Only occasionally does a case makes national news, as when the teenager Nataline Sarkisyan was unable to get a liver transplant last year. A recent study found many Americans with chronic illnesses forgo medical care for cost reasons, even if they have insurance.

Then there are the “lucky” people who get the care they need for a medical emergency, but later face financieal ruin when their insurance company denies coverage. Medical bills are implicated in about half of all personal bankruptcies in the U.S.

When I had a medical emergency last winter, I got to the doctor relatively early, I received good care in the hospital, no lasting damage was done to my body, and my insurance company covered almost all of the costs (once we had exhausted our deductible). I remember our relief when the biggest bill arrived in the mail, for about $18,000, and our required payment was only $600. (I recognize that $600 would be a hardship for many families, but we are fortunate to be able to pay that without cutting back on any essentials.)

Yesterday I was reminded again of how things could have turned out very differently for my family. If you are a regular at Daily Kos, you may recognize the handle AdmiralNaismith. Among other things, he wrote a series of diaries about the political scene in all 50 states between April and October. The links to all of those pieces are here, and he wrote an interesting post-election wrap-up diary here.

AdmiralNaismith doesn’t write many personal diaries, but he recently discussed his own family’s “medical horror story”: Drowning in medical bills, despite insurance (another link is here).

He describes the sequence of events, including his wife’s life-threatening embolism, which left his family owing thousands of dollars for medical care–more unpaid bills than AdmiralNaismith earns in three months. He asked fellow bloggers to help pay down the three largest bills, which will otherwise be sent to collection agencies within 30 days. (He’s not asking anyone to send him money directly but provides contact details for the insurer, with name and account number.) A few hundred people paying $10 or $20 each would help enormously.

I will be calling to make a payment on Monday, and I encourage anyone who’s ever benefited from reading AdmiralNaismith’s informative diaries to do the same.

But equally important, I ask the community of Democratic activists, who did so much to elect Obama, to hold his feet to the fire next year on delivering the comprehensive health care reform he promised.

I haven’t been thrilled with Obama’s cabinet appointments so far. My number one hope for the new government is that Ezra Klein is right about what Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Services means:

This is huge news, and the clearest evidence yet that Obama means to pursue comprehensive health reform. You don’t tap the former Senate Majority Leader to run your health care bureaucracy. That’s not his skill set. You tap him to get your health care plan through Congress. You tap him because he understands the parliamentary tricks and has a deep knowledge of the ideologies and incentives of the relevant players. You tap him because you understand that health care reform runs through the Senate. And he accepts because he has been assured that you mean to attempt health care reform.

Please share your thoughts or health care horror stories in the comments.

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Yet another failure of employer-based health insurance

If you’ve been on the job market in the last decade or two, you may know how hard it is to find a job with good benefits.

A lesser-known fact of life in this country is that even if you think your employer provides great health care coverage, you could get shafted later. nyceve has written a book’s worth of diaries about “Murder by Spreadsheet,” when for-profit insurance companies find excuses to refuse to cover needed medical care.

Insurance companies are not always to blame, however. Corporations looking to cut costs sometimes yank promised health benefits from retirees who put in many years of work and in some cases gave up pay raises in exchange for better benefits packages.

The makers of John Deere machinery have provided the latest example of this travesty. In response, some 5,000 former employees of Deere & Co. filed a class action lawsuit this week

demanding that company officials reset the clock to 2007 and restore health benefits that court papers say were drastically cut back this year.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Des Moines, alleges Moline, Ill.-based Deere broke longtime promises to its employees when the company on Jan. 1 “eliminated, reduced and dramatically altered” benefits pledged under retiree health plans.


Court papers say the company for more than 15 years promised lifetime health benefits to employees who vested in Deere & Co. pension plans, and Deere can’t now back out of that deal.

In July about 3,000 retired former Maytag employees learned that Whirlpool, which bought Maytag in 2005, is trying to reduce their health benefits as well.

The Des Moines Register reported today that officials from Iowa’s Senior Health Insurance Information Program have scheduled meetings in Newton on September 17 “to warn Maytag retirees about upcoming choices and deadlines in the wake of a decision by Whirlpool to reduce their health benefits.” Maytag retirees have filed a class-action suit in Michigan claiming that Whirlpool must honor Maytag’s contracts that promised “vested lifetime retiree health care benefits.” That lawsuit is pending, as is a separate case filed by Whirlpool, seeking to impose the benefit changes on Maytag retirees.

Speaking of our screwed-up health care system, today nyceve posted a wonderful diary contrasting a video of John McCain saying, “Like Most Americans, I go see my doctor fairly frequently” with footage of Joe Biden talking about health care on the stump. Click through, these videos are worth your time.

It’s no surprise that McCain is out of touch with the realities of health care in this country. After all, one of the authors of McCain’s health “reform” proposal thinks there are no uninsured Americans as long as sick people can go to the emergency room.  

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On Labor Day, remember why unions are good for workers

MissLaura put up this front-page post at Daily Kos today about why unions matter. She linked to Change to Win, which has all kinds of useful statistics on its website. Click the link to find charts illustrating that “Union Workers Earn More,” “Union Members Have Better Benefits,” “Union Members Pay Less for Health Coverage,” and so on.

If Barack Obama becomes president, I hope he will follow through on promises to make it easier for workers to organize in this country. Replacing some of the corporate hacks George Bush has put on the National Labor Relations Board would be a step in the right direction. The Bush administration has used the NLRB to carry out a “systematic assault on workers’ rights.”

In the good news column, Shai Sachs reported in this post at MyDD that union membership appears to be slowly inching up, reversing a long decline.

But remember, just being in a union doesn’t guarantee that a worker will receive promised benefits. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Maytag retirees are probably going to lose health benefits guaranteed in their last contract. On the other hand, if they hadn’t been in a union, it’s a good bet they never would have had those benefits to begin with.

Another failure of employer-based health insurance

If you were negotiating an employment agreement, you might consider taking an outstanding benefits package in exchange for a lower starting salary or a wage freeze. How would you feel if many years later, in retirement, some of those benefits were taken away from you?

About 3,000 former Maytag workers and family members have received letters from Whirlpool this week informing them that they are about to get cheated. Here’s the background:

Whirlpool Corp. has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to cut the medical benefits of thousands of retired Maytag workers.

The lawsuit, dated July 24 and filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in Des Moines as a class action complaint, names the international and local chapters of the United Auto Workers union and three retired Maytag workers as representatives of the class. […]

Whirlpool bought rival Maytag in 2006 for $1.7 billion and assumed the negotiated union contracts and related benefit plans. […]

Whirlpool said in the lawsuit that a contract negotiated between the union and Maytag in 2004 expires on July 31. Whirlpool said it plans to change the retiree medical benefits on Jan. 1, 2009, to bring the benefits in line with the same plan that more than 10,000 current employees, retirees and their dependents have.

I hope that Whirlpool’s lawsuit will fail, but unfortunately, the federal bench is so full of Republican-appointed judges that I don’t expect much in the way of protection for union members.

Barack Obama released this statement today in connection with the controversy:

Des Moines, Iowa – Below is a statement from Senator Barack Obama on the letter Whirlpool sent to Maytag union retirees this week about changes in their health benefits.

“In America, we believe that if you work hard, you should be able to build a better life for yourself and your family.  But today, this American dream is slipping out of reach for too many working Americans. Whirlpool’s decision to cut the health care benefits of 2,200 Maytag retirees is the latest sign that we need to change the broken system in Washington.  

“It’s not right that Maytag’s CEO walked away with a multi-million dollar buyout while the hardworking men and women who built the company lost their jobs and are now facing health care cuts. I’ve had the privilege of meeting with Maytag workers in Newton, and I know they negotiated those benefits in good faith, giving up pay increases and other benefits.  Now it is time for Whirlpool to show good faith to their former employees.  

“As President, I will fight for our workers every day because when our workers do well, America does well.  In the Senate, I’ve fought to protect pensions, and I will continue that fight in the White House.  I will make sure our workers get the fair wages, affordable health care, and secure retirement that they deserve.  And I’ll change our tax code so it rewards companies that create jobs here in the United States instead of companies that ship jobs overseas. I’ll be a President who looks out for Main Street, not just Wall Street and who fights to put the American Dream within reach for every American.”

I certainly hope Obama will work to strengthen labor unions and workers’ rights in this country if he gets elected.

But ultimately, Whirlpool’s action is yet another indictment of our health care system. Even Americans who have good employer-based health insurance can get screwed.

To get more informed about the failures of our current health care system and the benefits of moving to a single-payer “Medicare for all” model, read nyceve’s diaries at Daily Kos or the Guaranteed Healthcare group blog.

At Guaranteed Healthcare, you can also find a list of Democratic candidates for Congress who have endorsed HR 676, which would establish a single-payer health care system.

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Edwards Evening News Roundup: Save the Planet Edition

Welcome to your Saturday night Edwards Evening News edition, where we’re working to save the planet!  I am delighted about tonight’s news, which includes:

  • Dr. Helen Caldicott says vote for JRE!
  • Edwards Opposes Peru Free Trade Agreement
  • Edwards visits 99th Iowa County
  • Media Shocker: the Washington Post Has a Decent Story on Edwards!

All this and more below the fold…

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