As soon as the November mid-term elections were over, leaders and activists in the leading single-payer Medicare-for-All advocacy organizations attended a series of meetings to chart a course forward for our movement. At the November 4 meeting of the Labor Caucus for Single Payer, the November 6 meeting of Physicians for a National Health Program, the November 12 meeting of the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Healthcare and the November 13 and 14 national conference of Healthcare-NOW!, the conclusion was the same: there are plenty of opportunities to advance our movement in the post-election period.
There is no question that the mid-term election results will make it more difficult to advance the right to healthcare and a broader working people’s agenda. However, the election did produce a few bright spots for single-payer. In California, the forces that came together to defeat Meg Whitman’s attempt to buy the governor’s race have forged a coalition that just might get a single-payer bill passed through the assembly and senate and signed by Governor Brown.
In Vermont, the newly elected Governor Shumlin ran on an aggressive pro-single-payer platform, giving him the mandate to implement the recommendations of a study commission to make healthcare a right for all state residents. Neil Abercrombie, a staunch HR 676 supporter when he was in Congress, was elected governor of Hawaii. And in Massachusetts, non-binding referenda endorsing single payer passed in all 14 districts that they were introduced in with an average yes vote of 63%.
Even the new Congress will not see a substantial change in the number of single-payer supporters. 79 endorsers of HR 676 were re-elected and at least 3 newly elected members (Colleen Hanabusa, HI; David Cicilline, RI; Bill Keating, MA) are likely to support single-payer initiatives. The Democrats continue to control the Senate, and Bernie Sanders has vowed to use his best efforts to advance S 703 and other healthcare justice concerns.
A common theme in all of the post-election meetings was an emerging consensus that our movement has grown to do more than just advocate for a single piece of federal legislation:
- Leaders in Vermont, California and elsewhere believe they are close to achieving a breakthrough victory for state-level single payer reforms. They will need our help. A victory in any state will be a huge advance for our movement everywhere.
- Labor activists are poised to use this moment to get national union buy-in around the principles espoused in AFL-CIO Resolution 34. The commitment of labor’s resources and on-the-ground organizing capacity would be a real game changer for our movement.
- In addition to continuing to pursue federal single-payer legislation, most recognize the growing urgency of aligning our fight with the movement to defend the social insurance safety net. The Deficit Commission intends to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block. We have an opportunity to advance real healthcare reform as the only progressive solution to the deficit crisis.
When the Labor Campaign for Single Payer was founded in January of 2009, we declared, “Our struggle for universal, affordable healthcare for all cannot be won in the halls of Congress alone. The enemies of true reform hold most of the power there. It must be won at the grassroots—in the workplaces and communities of our members and all workers.”
The results of the mid-term election do not change this imperative a bit. If anything, we must use this moment to go back to the grassroots and redouble our efforts.
Massachusetts Nurses Association leader Sandy Eaton got it exactly right when he told last weekend’s Healthcare-NOW! conference, “The problem is not that we don’t have enough presence inside the Beltway or enough lobbyists. We need to focus on on-the-ground organizing across the country. It’s this kind of street heat that will keep the issue alive in Washington no matter who is in the majority.”
We in the Labor Campaign for Single Payer have our work cut out for us. Your support and ideas will be crucial in the coming months as we craft and refine a strategy to move forward in this difficult period. We will not rest until everyone in America has a right to receive the best healthcare that society can provide.