US Nurses Union Demands Medicare for All

Bella DeVaan says universal healthcare would close crucial gaps in a wasteful, privatized model that left the American healthcare system ill-prepared for the pandemic.

National Nurses United leader Bonnie Castillo testifying at a U.S. Senate committee meeting on May 12. (NNU)

By Bella DeVaan

In 2021, a Kaiser Permanente facility in Antioch, California, decided that the best way to celebrate its National Nurses Week was with “encouragement stones” wrapped in paper bags.

Management “gifting” rocks to nurses is an apt metaphor for how the United States treats these essential healthcare professionals – and administers healthcare in general. OSHA later fined that same Californian Kaiser facility for failing to report employees’ Covid-19 infections.

Throughout the pandemic, nurses have been forced to witness endless death and despair – and endure inadequate workplace protection all the while. An overwhelming sense of “moral distress and moral injury” has driven hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers to leave their profession in the last two years, while 1.2 million nurses hold licenses but are not currently practicing.

Last week, during Nurses Week, National Nurses United – the nation’s largest nurses’ union, representing 175,000 professionals – advocated for a suite of policy priorities: safe staffing ratios, a workplace violence protection bill, a Veterans Affairs employee fairness bill, improved OSHA occupational exposure standards, and, as a marquee priority, Medicare for All.

Not only do nurses need more substantial federal protections to raise standards and boost safety at work, they believe their poor workplace experience is inextricably linked to patients’ access to equitable, affordable care.

“The increased corporatization of healthcare and the continued devaluation of nursing labor can only be addressed by removing the profit motive from health care,” testified Bonnie Castillo, a registered nurse and executive director of National Nurses United, before the Senate Budget Committee on May 12.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) convened the first Senate hearing on universal healthcare on International Nurses Day and reintroduced Medicare for All legislation. The senate bill has 15 co-sponsors, while a House version introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) has 121.

In a country where 1-n-4 patients are unable to afford their prescriptions and 30 million Americans are uninsured, universal healthcare would close crucial gaps created by our wasteful, exploitative privatized model.

The for-profit model left the American healthcare system ill-prepared for the pandemic. By engineering brittle supply chains and using “just-in-time” staffing models, hospitals faced shortages of personal protective equipment and staff when the crisis hit.

At a recent Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice hearing, hospital professionals shared stories of how monopolization and consolidation harmed their ability to work and administer care – resulting in mass layoffs, service elimination and rising costs for patients.

Kelley Tyler, a National Nurses United member and trauma care nurse from North Carolina, reported that her nurse-to-patient ratio increased from 1:3 to 1:5 after HCA Healthcare company took over a local hospital and cut rural cancer care and primary clinics.

Had Medicare for All existed before Covid-19, Castillo testified, the survival rate likely would’ve been higher because more patients would’ve sought care immediately rather than delaying treatment for fear of unaffordable medical bills.

From left: NNU President Jean Ross, RN; Sen. Bernie Sanders; NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN; and NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN. (NNU)

Republican Senators attacked Medicare for All as overly expensive and even “un-American.” Castillo responded by arguing that “the country cannot afford the financial burdens of a system with built-in inefficiencies, administrative waste and needless profiteering.”

The inability to afford healthcare leads to 68,000 deaths per year, and medical bills bankrupt even more.

“Unless you’re Elon Musk, you could be one illness or injury away from financial ruin,” said Adam Gaffney, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who also testified at the Senate hearing.

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Gaffney also testified that nearly a third of every dollar spent on healthcare in America gets wasted on bureaucracy, particularly on insurance companies’ claim contesting. Canada, a universal healthcare bellwether that conservatives love to hate, spends half that proportion on administration.

If the United States fully realized a model of Medicare for All policy by 2030, Congressional Budget Office analysis suggests that the country could net $650 billion in that year alone.

Of course, health care profiteers — from private hospitals to insurance companies and large pharmaceutical chains — are desperate to consign Medicare for All to oblivion. Last year alone, UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann earned an eye-popping $142.2 million.

In a Fox News op-ed, Sanders reported that the top six health insurance companies raked in $60 billion in profits last year and spent over $10 billion since 1998 to help elect politicians to safeguard the status quo. National Nurses United President Jean Ross confronted the CVS CEO at their shareholders meeting for donating $5 million to an anti-Medicare for All dark money group.

“Here’s the bottom line,” wrote the senator. “If every major country on earth can guarantee health care to all and achieve better health outcomes, while spending substantially less per capita than we do, there is no reason, other than greed, that the United States of America cannot do the same.”

Bella DeVaan is an Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies. You can follow her on Twitter at @bdevaan.

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The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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10 comments for “US Nurses Union Demands Medicare for All

  1. Maura
    May 21, 2022 at 20:21

    Medicare Insolvency 2026 Gov’t
    Trustees Report.Medicare for all is not possible with U. S. Budget crisis.
    We need more Nursing Schools.
    Look at Phillippines for their wise decision to train nurses instead of opening Med Schools for doctors because overseas,international
    high salaried jobs were requesting more nurses than doctors.
    Why and How….Why are we in this situation and How can we fix it.???

  2. rgl
    May 20, 2022 at 22:30

    Nurses, doctors and firefighters are the real heroes in today’s society. Cops and soldiers destroy lives. Nurses, doctors and firefighters save lives. Who of these two groups are more deserving of our support – and tax dollars. Just a thought.

  3. JonnyJames
    May 19, 2022 at 17:46

    Despite a few rebels, both right-wing authoritarian parties in the US are opposed to Medicare for All, Single payer, universal systems. The AMA is against it, the BigPharma oligopoly is against it. Since most politicians are bought-and-paid-for, they vote against public opinion and their own constituencies. Their constituents are the donor class, not voters.

    The Ds had majorities in both Houses in 09/10 and Obama/Pelosi et al. said don’t even think about it, Single Payer is “off the table”. I applaud the NNU/CNA for advocating for Medicare for All for YEARS, but voting for a D or R aint gonna cut it. It will take much more than that to DEMAND a real health care system.

    What we have now is an extortion racket parading as “health insurance”.

    Oh, and if you live in the UK and think the NHS won’t be privatized, think again. The NHS is being slowly privatized American Style.

    • Tim N
      May 23, 2022 at 07:19

      That’s right. Here we go again: as the midterms approach, out comes Sanders like a jack in the box, talking about Med4All again. He was told by the Dem leadership last year to not talk about it at that time, and he complied. Now it’s safe again. The same dog and pony show, year in and year out. In the WH sits a rancid old politician who absolutely despises Med4All–that means nothing will happen.

  4. Patient
    May 19, 2022 at 17:32

    I’d believe it more if this very union would actually join its nurses in fighting for safe staffing ratios for its members. There have been a series of labor actions begun by nurses. Not by the unions, by nurses. Safe staffing ratios is always high on the list. Along with pay raises that actually exceed inflation, and schedules and other issues that fall under ‘work with dignity’.

    Invariably, the ‘union’ meets with the bosses, now most always in secret. They come back with the ‘best offer’ that they then work to get passed. These always have very weak and very unenforceable language about safe staffing ratios. The union basically lets the bosses get away with it. Time after time after time. The unions help to set up a system where the working nurses, their members, can only fill out a form complaining of unsafe staffing, and the union lets the management ignore it. Along with below inflation pay raises and horrible schedules I wouldn’t want to live under and the rest of what the union agrees to and then forces its members to accept, usually without even being able to read the contract.

    Now they hold a press conference. Asking politely for the same thing that they refuse to fight for. Yep, that always works.

    America needs real unions. Not company unions.

  5. Vera Gottlieb
    May 19, 2022 at 15:58

    What on Earth is wrong with you Yanx ??? Bragging all over the world yet unable to provide universal health care for all Americans. Even Cuba can afford it…because it isn’t privatized.

  6. May 19, 2022 at 13:41

    I’m tired. I’ve been part of the National Improved Medicare for All effort since joining forces with Organizing for America. I was initially under the impression that the effort was intended to bring universal health care to the USA. It soon became abundantly clear that Obama with the help of OFA intended to strengthen the Insurance and Pharma cartel’s vice grip on our health care and keep it profitable. I spoke up about the obvious bait-and-switch that was happening right under our noses. I was promptly invited to leave the organization. The sincere advocates for universal health care were completely bamboozled. The attractive charismatic democrat black man in office told us the UNaffordable Healthcare Act was a good thing and that even though it wasn’t exactly what we wanted, it was a step in the right direction. As Lincoln is reported to have said, “You can fool all of the people some of the time.” The oligarch found a winner in Obama – whatever he said, the liberal left bought it hook-line-and-sinker.

    We just had primaries in NC. The elected Democrats for Senate and House both support “improving the ACA, including the public option.” If they were honest as Biden was in 2020, they would just keep their campaign rhetoric short and sweet, and just plainly state, “Vote for me. Nothing will fundamentally change. I support the elitist status quo.

    I’ll be voting 3rd party come November. If democrats want my vote, they are going to have to start running on issues that matter.

    • May 20, 2022 at 18:54

      I sympathize….I am a retired nurse after more than 50 years ….I have witnessed this decline in Health Care first hand… goes along with all the other social ills…climate chaos, nuclear threat, erosion of human rights/and all life forms…..Nursing taught me how to be an advocate…but I am now very tired, beyond sad for the next generation. AH

    • renate
      May 20, 2022 at 19:16

      The democrats are expert obfuscators. All ACA did was move the chairs around on the Titanic. ACA improved nothing. Unless the nation really goes and the streets and demonstrates relentlessly nothing will change. But the private money colossus, the Medical-industrial Complex can’t be beaten with just nice and peaceful demonstrations, it will take at least a civil war to get results. It is much like the MIC.

  7. JoesOtherBrother
    May 19, 2022 at 11:21

    “Republican Senators attacked Medicare for All as overly expensive and even “un-American.”

    Let us not forget the Democratic cohorts in Congress that oppose Medicare for All and the squad in the House that failed to push for Force the Vote, to force Speaker Pelosi to bring the Medicare for A bill up for a vote on the House floor.

    Even in the state of California that has a Democratic Governor and Democratic super majority in the State Assembly and Senate, is not able to pass Medicare for All.

    It’s not the Republicans that are the obstacle for Medicare for All its the Democrats.

Comments are closed.