AFL-CIO President, State and Local Leaders Join Mayor Newsom to Tout Need for Public Health Option
“Healthy San Francisco” public program covers 75% of uninsured, no evidence of negative impact on jobs, data shows
National AFL-CIO President John Sweeney joined San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and state and local labor leaders today to urge Congress to pass health care reform with a strong public option, touting the success of San Francisco’s universal health care system. Leaders cited “Healthy San Francisco” as an example of how a public option can effectively cover the uninsured and create choice and competition in the insurance market without negatively impacting job growth.
The San Francisco program currently covers 75 percent of those in the city who were previously uninsured, Mayor Newsom announced.
“Even those who fight reform cannot deny that our present health care system is broken. It is inefficient, unfair, and enormously costly,” said Mayor Newsom. “A public plan can work. San Francisco is proving it by driving down costs, improving access to care and creating competition.”
Congress can gain valuable insight into what a future public health care option nationally might accomplish by looking at the example of San Francisco’s first-in-the-nation program. Healthy San Francisco is, in essence, a one-of-a-kind example of a public option of health insurance. Low-income workers are able to access subsidized health insurance while those with higher incomes are given an option to buy into a public health insurance option at reduced costs than they would face in the private market.
A national public option is essential because it will create choice for workers and competition for private insurers, which will drive down costs and give more people access to quality care, Sweeney said.
“The bottom line is that people have to realize it’s us against the giant insurance companies – we have to insist that Congress hold them accountable and put patients and our doctors in charge of health care,” Sweeney said.
The need for health insurance reform is especially acute in California, said California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski, citing recent budget cuts that are likely to add significantly to the rolls of the uninsured and underinsured.
“What’s currently a health care crisis in California is about to turn into a full-blown epidemic,” Pulaski said. “The Governor’s recent budget cuts decimate vital services for California families. Those who need care the most – seniors, the disabled, pregnant women and children – are even more vulnerable now.”
Despite the rhetoric from some business groups that a public health care program would lead to job loss, San Francisco’s experience with a public option shows otherwise, said Ken Jacobs of the UC Berkeley Labor Center. Based on the most recently available data, as of December 2008 there is no indication that San Francisco employment grew slower surrounding counties.
“The San Francisco experiment is working well,” Jacobs said. “The public option has proved popular with individuals and employers alike, while not displacing the private market. And the employer requirement has not led to the job losses that many feared. These are important lessons for the national debate.”