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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: 13 Top Healthcare Stories of 2015

These stories illustrate the powerful social forces and corporate interests shaping healthcare policy. And they continue to inspire a healthcare justice movement that says that Obamacare is not enough and that the time has come to finish the job and make healthcare a right for everyone in America.

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Five years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, working class Americans have yet to achieve healthcare security. Nearly every family has a healthcare horror story to tell.

These stories illustrate the powerful social forces and corporate interests shaping healthcare policy. And they continue to inspire a healthcare justice movement that says that Obamacare is not enough and that the time has come to finish the job and make healthcare a right for everyone in America.

This past year saw its share of advances and setbacks on the road to healthcare justice. Here are our choices for a baker’s dozen of the good, bad and ugly healthcare stories of 2015:

13. Vermont drops the ball. The year opened with Vermont Governor Shumlin announcing that he was abandoning efforts to implement the first in the nation publicly financed universal healthcare plan, “Green Mountain Care,” claiming that it would cost too much. Supporters of Green Mountain Care quickly pointed out that Shumlin’s reversal was more about politics than economics as, even under his worst-case scenarios, 95% of all Vermonters would save money under Green Mountain Care. The Vermont Workers Center released an alternative financing plan supported by over 100 economists but the legislature has so far refused to act.

12. Colorado picks it up. Meanwhile, activists in Colorado submitted over 150,000 signatures to certify a statewide initiative vote to establish Colorado Care. The initiative, scheduled for a vote in November 2016, would create a healthcare cooperative that would be owned and governed by the people of Colorado and would establish a publicly financed universal healthcare system in the state. The initiative faces formidable opposition from the healthcare and health insurance industries and organizers are calling on the national healthcare justice movement for support.

11. New York Leads the Way. The multi-year crusade to enact single-payer style legislation in New York received a huge shot in the arm in May when the sate legislature overwhelmingly passed Assemblyman Gottfried’s NY Health Bill. The passage has energized a powerful grassroots movement that is gearing up to build the leverage to move the bill through the state senate.

10. Medicare Turns 50. Medicare made healthcare a right for nearly every American over 65 and enjoys massive popular support. The 50th Anniversary of its passage was celebrated in July in 87 cities with PIE: Protect it. Improve it. Expand it. HR 676, submitted by Congressman John Conyers, would extend an improved version of Medicare to everyone in America from the cradle to the grave. It currently has 56 co-sponsors.

9. Workers Pay More for Less. Over 50% of all Americans access healthcare through employment-based private health insurance. The Kaiser Annual Health Benefits Survey for 2015 shows that two historic trends have continued unabated: healthcare insurance continues to increase at rates that are 2 to 3 times higher than increases in the cost of living and workers are forced to bear an increasing percentage of these costs. From 2005 to 2015, average premiums have increased 61% while employee contributions have gone up 83%. In addition, deductibles and co-pays have rapidly increased, particularly for prescription drugs.

8. The McDermott Bill will ease the way for state single payer. In July, Congressman McDermott submitted HR 3241, the State-Based Universal Health Care Act. This bill would make it easier for states to implement single-payer style reforms by allowing them to consolidate all federal healthcare funding sources into one state system. It would also waive any provisions of the ERISA Act that might allow large employers to opt out of a state single-payer system.

7. Health insurance is not healthcare. The ACA gave Americans the right to buy health insurance. Many are finding, however, that the right to purchase insurance is not the same as the right to healthcare. A  Commonwealth Fund survey found that 25% of privately insured adults said that their premiums were difficult or impossible to afford and 43% found their deductibles difficult or impossible. These financial barriers cause large numbers of Americans to defer needed care and skip recommended follow-ups and tests.

6. Bernie injects single-payer into the national political debates. In the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections, Bernie Sanders has injected a fact-based advocacy for healthcare for all into the political discourse. Whatever happens to his campaign in the upcoming months, he has already performed an invaluable service by presenting his vision of healthcare justice to the American people.

5. The TPP would strengthen healthcare profiteers at our expense. In October, the Obama Administration concluded negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. If Congress ratifies it, the TPP would have a huge negative impact on healthcare reform. Pharmaceutical profits would be enhanced at the expense of the most vulnerable and foreign corporations could use non-judicial proceedings to block healthcare reform legislation. Congress could vote on this pact anytime in 2016.

4. Unions get a little breathing space as the Cadillac Tax is delayed. The ACA excise tax on employer provided healthcare plans was a spectacularly bad idea. In a “strange bedfellows” mash up, Congress voted to defer the so-called Cadillac tax until 2020 in the budget agreement passed in December. Our briefing paper, Turning Chevys into Cadillacs , dissects the neoliberal underpinnings of the tax and predicts that its deferral will do little to slow down employer attacks on workers' healthcare benefits.

3. Fix It Makes the Business Case for Medicare for All. Healthcare justice organizers gained an important new tool with the November release of the movie Fix It. This film shows how the current for-profit healthcare system is crippling small and medium-sized companies and how Medicare for All would be good for business. The filmmakers have included important supplementary materials for organizers and have plans to promote the movie on Main Streets across America.

2. The healthcare justice movement is strong and united. The 2016 National Single Payer Strategy Conference was the largest and most diverse in recent history. Participants engaged in a deep strategic discussion and left energized to finish the job and make healthcare a right for everyone in America.

1. 58% of All Americans support our vision of Medicare for All. Despite years of propaganda and misinformation paid for by the medical industrial complex and despite a near universal blackout in the media and the political establishment, the American people overwhelmingly support healthcare for all. A December Kaiser tracking poll shows that 58% of all Americans support Medicare for All. Among Democrats, the percentages rise to 81%. We have won the battle of ideas. Now we need to get the profiteers out of the way!

Thank you for all that you do. We look forward to working with you in 2016 as we move closer to victory in our fight for healthcare justice.

In Solidarity,

Mark Dudzic
National Coordinator