Instead of taking apart our existing health-care infrastructure, let’s build upon our already strong foundation to produce solutions that lower costs, expand coverage to everyone, protect Medicare and drive innovation.
As a union ironworker, I’ve spent my whole adult life building lasting structures. One of the things I am most proud of is helping to build and strengthen the labor movement. Until the end of last year, I served as the executive secretary of the Washington State Building Trades, which capped my 35 years of work in the labor movement.
I focused on ensuring that our economy worked for the people who build it. Every day, the women and men of the Building Trades use their labor and skills to create the infrastructure that drives economic growth and opportunity. Fighting on their behalf for fair wages that would support their families, for safety provisions in jobs that are inherently dangerous and for access to the best benefits, including health care, was a privilege.
I’m also proud of the labor movement’s efforts and successes in advancing greater equality and opportunity for workers across the country. The labor movement has been at the forefront of promoting civil rights, gender equality, fair wages, and common-sense policies that protect consumers and human health. And we support government intervention and policies that promote a more just and equitable society.
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Today, one issue that is front and center is how best to provide access to affordable health care.
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I join millions of Americans who are extremely proud of the progress we made by passing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). We took a huge step forward and provided millions of Americans with health care. Now, one of our nation’s two major political parties is singularly focused on undermining the progress we have made with implementation of the ACA and its benefits to Americans. With Republicans working as hard as they can to take us backward, it’s left to Democrats to put forward policies and ideas to make progress in ensuring everyone has the affordable choices in health care they deserve. And within the Democratic Party, a robust debate is unfolding about how best to tackle this.
On the one hand, you have folks who want to build on our existing, employer-based system by strengthening and expanding the ACA, Medicare and Medicaid. On the other, you have folks who want to scrap the whole system, and replace it with a government-run, single-payer or “Medicare for All” system.
As we continue this debate, it’s important to remember how hard union members have fought, and the sacrifices they have made, to secure good health-care benefits. Quality health care coverage doesn’t just happen, it has to be negotiated for and balanced with wages and other benefits. This has been done consciously through bargaining and ratified contracts. Policymakers should not act to scrap those coverage benefits that have been hard fought for.
For tens of millions of patients and families, including union families, the current health-care system works. Today, 180 million Americans rely on employer-based coverage, and most of these people regularly receive world-class care delivered by first-in-class doctors and hospitals.
With so many still in need, I understand the temptation to demolish the whole system, but a prudent builder will use what’s already working. The same is true with health care. Instead of taking apart our existing health-care infrastructure, let’s work together to build upon our already strong foundation to produce solutions that lower costs, expand coverage to everyone, protect Medicare and drive innovation. And let’s protect what our unions have bargained for.
It’s hard to be an optimist these days, but in 35 years in the labor movement, I’ve seen improvements in working conditions, improvements in safety and the power of innovation to drive our economy forward. But there is more to do. As we work to ensure every American has access to affordable coverage and high-quality care, let’s not lose sight of what’s been successful while we fix what’s broken.