Vice President Joe Biden is wrong. Medicare for All benefits union members. Instead of their negotiated health care benefits, with Medicare for All, union members would have improved health care benefits, including coverage for home and community-based care, and higher wages.
One in ten workers belong to a union. So, unions matter in the fight for Medicare for All. Today, not surprisingly, at least 20 large unions support Senator Bernie Sanders’ and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s Medicare for All bills. Medicare for All, a single-payer public health insurance system, lets people see the doctors they want to see and provides a rich benefit package, including home and community-based care, without premiums, deductibles and coinsurance.
Health care has increasingly become a point of contention in labor negotiations. Union representatives could be negotiating for higher wages or better working conditions instead of health care benefits. Many union representatives would rather have health care benefits off the table.
Randi Weingarten, who heads the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which represents 1.7 million teachers and nurses, supports Medicare for All. She’d like the AFT to be fighting for smaller class sizes and better pay instead of health care benefits. The National Nurses United and the American Federation of Government Employees also support Medicare for All.
Some unions have not been able to negotiate great health benefits for their workers. Medicare for All would be a huge benefit to them.
Many unions have confidence that their members would “come out ahead” with Medicare for All. Very high health insurance premiums would be replaced with far lower taxes with Medicare for All. And, the benefits of Medicare for All would be seen by union members and everyone else alike.
Still, some unions have endorsed incremental approaches to health care reform, in addition to or instead of Medicare for All. They want to expand public health insurance. For example, the Service Employees International Union advocates for universal coverage in whatever form it takes. Its focus is first and foremost on coverage and not necessarily on affordable care.
Congressmen Tim Ryan and Tom Delaney, along with Senator Kamala Harris, have proposed health care reform plans that would let union workers retain their union health benefits. There are several different proposals under consideration. For example, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO supports a plan put forward by Senator Debbie Stabenow, which would simply lower the age of Medicare eligibility to 55. That said, the AFL-CIO supported a resolution in 2017 supporting a fast move to a single-payer system like Medicare for All. And, several AFL-CIO state federations support Medicare for All.
It may be true that many union members like their health plans and say they want to keep them. It’s easy to be happy with your health benefits if you do not need a lot of health care and you do not know how much you are giving up in lost wages for your health coverage. Also, many people just don’t like change. It’s risky.
In fact, Medicare for All represents less change for union members and others than most people face each year: With Medicare for All, instead of needing to switch insurers and doctors, you keep your coverage and can continue to see the doctors you want to see from one year to the next. And, your costs are lower. As union members better understand Medicare for All, they should see the multitude of ways it will benefit them, their families and the public at large.
Here’s more from Just Care:
- Support increases for Medicare for All the better it is understood
- Four things to think about when choosing between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans
- Free local resources to help older adults
- Long-term care is unaffordable for middle-income families
- When to claim Social Security benefits