The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Food Workers Union Steps up Healthcare Reform Push

by Brendan Coyne

Nov. 22, 2005 – Joining the efforts of a government-founded national organization devoted to finding a workable solution to growing problems with the United States’s healthcare system, one of the nation’s largest unions yesterday announced its intention to actively engage members in the conversation. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) is the first labor union to join the two-year-old Citizens’ Health Care Working Group.

According to information compiled by the Working Group, as healthcare premiums rise and employers continue to shift the costs onto employees, a growing number of US residents said they are willing to accept limited options in exchange for greater stability. Congress created the Working Group as part of the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act with the intention to "provide for a nationwide public debate about improving the healthcare system to provide every American with the ability to obtain quality, affordable healthcare coverage."

Last month, The NewStandard reported that employers have been steadily dropping employee healthcare coverage as premiums outpaced inflation and wage gains over the past several years. In addition, while the percentage of insured Americans remains relatively stable, minority groups and the working poor have been the hardest hit by changes in both government-administered and privately run insurance schemes.

In a study published in the medical journal Health Affairs early this year, Harvard University Professor Elizabeth Warren and other researchers found that about half of all bankruptcies arise from medical bills, and of those, around three-quarters are filed by people with health insurance.

According to the National Coalition on Health Care, a nonprofit coalition of business, labor, religious and other groups, 45 million people have no health coverage. A May study by Emory University healthcare specialist Kenneth Thorpe projected that the number will rise to 54 million within ten years.

The study, which was conducted for NCHC, recommends full coverage through a variety of methods, including government-run universal health care and incentives and controls for private sector-funded insurance.

As part of the effort to make sure workers have a say in the medical-care reform debate, UFCW unveiled a website where union members can easily access a Health Care Working Group’s survey.

"Our members have first-hand knowledge of the pitfalls of our current healthcare system – whether soaring costs or access to quality care – and they have valid ideas for making the system work better for all Americans," UFCW President Joe Hansen said in a statement. "We have every intention of ensuring that their concerns and ideas receive the full weight of their due in the final recommendations prepared by the Working Group."

The union is also working to bring other unions into the Working Group and intends to mobilize UFCW members in advance of upcoming meetings.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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