Saturday, June 21, 2008

ICErs and Rank and File Unionists Say “No” to Healthcare Privatization

By Billy Wharton, Organizer, Coalition Against Privatization

We had a great rally and march in NYC yesterday. About 300 people turned out in front of the office of GHI (a non-profit insurer in NY State) and we then marched to the office of United Health. Speakers included Ralph Nader, actress Vinie Burrows, Dr. Oliver Fein of the Physicians for a National Health Program, Chuck Bell from the Consumers Union and longtime socialist-pacifist activist David McReynolds. Jean Fox from the Private Health Insurance Must Go! Coalition and Billy Wharton from the Coalition Against Privatization shared duties as the MC.

We began the event by reading aloud three healthcare horror stories and holding a moment of silence dedicated to all the victims of private health insurance. The GHI section of the protest was high-energy. There is currently a proposal to "convert" GHI & HIP into a merged for-profit company. Many speakers spoke against this proposal and in favor of H.R. 676. Included here were rank-and-file trade unionists including John Powers from the United Federation of Teachers, Marvin Holland and Marty Goodman from the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and Ronald Crenshaw from District Council 37 who, despite their union leaders support of the conversion, found the courage to speak up. Ralph Nader, Dr. Fein and David McReynolds gave strong speeches demanding single-payer as both a human right and as part of the routine services that citizens demand from the government (fire, police and postal).

We then marched to United Health, a company which is housed in a massive glass monstrosity on 34th street. Vinie Burrows began this section of the march with a fine speech which highlighted the significance of Juneteenth and the overall struggle for social justice. Later, the Raging Grannies belted out some tunes including lines like "Oh Medicare, my Medicare, Why don't you pay for Long Term Care?" We closed with a fiery speech by Ajamu Sankofa of the Private Health Insurance Must Go! Coalition and call by the MC (me!) to treat the demonstration as a beginning point for further organizing.

Media coverage was unusual. I suppose that more people in Tokyo and Rome will know about our demonstration than in New York City. Film crews from Asahi news and an Italian TV station filmed and reported on the march. Longer-term reporters from A&E and Bill Moyers Journal also turned up. In addition, several independent media sources and our main trade union newspaper picked up on the story.

To follow up, we distributed leaflets for a meeting on June 26th at 6:30 pm at 339 Lafayette Street (Buzzer #11) to discuss both the GHI/HIP privatization and the struggle for HR 676. Overall, the demonstration was quite invigorating as I felt like we were at the beginning and not the end of something.


ed notes online said...

I was proud to be part of a group of ICE'ers present at the rally, though I got there too late to hear Ralph Nader speak. I took some video and will try to get something up on you tube.-Norm

Anonymous said...

Great Norm

Anonymous said...

It was a great cause fellas, I was very happy to be there too.

Randi needs to take note, this was a genuine sign of solidarity. We endured the heat and marched together, then we hit a local pub. The only thing that irked me that day was that Norm ate more chicken wings than me at the pub. Next time I'll be ready Norm, I will win the chicken wing eating title.

Anonymous said...

Where is the Unity guy to say that John Powers never organized anything? Wrong again Mr. Unity.

Anonymous said...

Actually Billy Wharton organized the rally not John Powers.

John was a great speaker at the rally.

I will see you all at the July 1st meeting.

James Eterno

Anonymous said...

Butt Head Unity Man

Strikes Again...

James wasn't able to make the rally. He never heard anyone speak.

Many organizers...small and large

Good try Jerky!

-With Love,
Randi the once make believe teacher turned make-believe labor leader

Anonymous said...

Unity's Shitty resolution with comments inserted.

Resolution on HIP and GHI Merger
WHEREAS, HIP and GHI plan to convert to a single for-profit publicly traded health insurer to be called Emblem Health, Inc.; and

WHEREAS, both HIP and GHI were built many years ago on a commitment made to New York City and its employees to create quality, affordable health care for working families; and

WHEREAS, it was the assets and business of New York City and its employees that made possible the current financial viability of HIP-GHI and

There are 4 million HIP and GHI subscribers. The total number of NYC employees, including dependents and retirees totals 1.2 million subscribers. That means there are another 2.8 million subscribers (“working families”) across New York State. Therefore, the language of this third “WHEREAS” is exclusionary. How can we on one hand fight against education budget cuts and their ability to further destabilize families during an economic downturn as Randi rightfully pointed out at a recent DA and quietly subject many of the same families to the pitfalls of privatized health insurance?

P.S. Read today’s 7th and 8th “Whereas” from the John McCain Resolution. Why can we nix McCain’s privatization bill but not the HIP and GHI privatization proposal?

WHEREAS, a merger and conversion to for-profit status is acceptable only if the commitment to the city and its employees is continued by streamlining and improving services; and

How can a merger (which already happened) and a proposed conversion to for-profit status (euphemism for “privatization”) be acceptable if a commitment to streamlining and improving services take place? What does the commitment look like? Is it a contract? A promise? A handshake? This is silly considering the stakes involved. Should we sit back and allow the privatization of our health insurance take place in the hopes that services will be improved? Try telling a for-profit corporation to “Keep the Promises” (no disrespect to the KTP Coalition, which is doing a great job).

P.S. HIP and GHI have argued that having access to financial markets will allow their privatized company to use extra capital to finance the move toward streamlining and improving services. More capital? Why is there no mention in this resolution that HIP at this very moment has 900 million dollars in reserve? Do we have to accept the lie that they need access to financial markets?

WHEREAS, the Municipal Labor Committee has expressed concern that the compensation of three top HIP executives doubled last year and that the company’s CEO would be awarded a stock option package that could be worth as much as $20 million if the conversion takes place; and

What are the advantages of being non-profit? Answer: No more than 15% of a company’s budget can be spent on administrative costs. This means a cap on CEO’s salaries. Eric Dinallo, NYS Superintendent of Insurance, has not signed the conversion bill and yet these corporate sharks have already begun their salary feeding frenzy.

WHEREAS, rumors persist that upon conversion there will be a “flip” of both the management and control of the converted entity, a turn of events that would threaten the stability of municipal employees health benefits; therefore be it

In a letter made available to delegates at the March DA, Randi tells Eric Dinallo, NYS Superintendent of Insurance, that any conversion must include a guaranteed “multi-year freeze” on “flipping” the privatized company. There is no mention in this resolution of a guaranteed multi-year freeze. Why? What has changed? Will we be told what has changed? What we do get in the last “Resolved” that follows is impotent, weak language that utilizes words like abstract “guarantees” again in an attempt to pacify us.

RESOLVED, that the UFT, in concert with the Municipal Labor Committee, call on the governor and state Legislature to distribute a fair share of the proceeds of the conversion to for-profit status to New York City municipal employees and retirees, who are the real stakeholders in the companies; and

RESOLVED, that the UFT, in concert with the Municipal Labor Committee, call on the state Superintendent of Insurance to defer any decision on approving a proposed conversion unless there are guarantees that any successor organizations maintain quality, affordable health care for working families; and that the NYC Municipal employees and retirees share in the proceeds of any for profit conversion.

The above two “Resolved”s contain the gist of why our leadership has not staunchly opposed the proposed privatization of HIP and GHI. There is a lot of money ( in fact 3-5 billion dollars worth of conversion money) that will be made available when the company goes public and must answer to one group of people only: The Stockholders. The stockholders will be the “stakeholders” and not the working families referenced in this resolution. This scheme of profits before people is the real issue here and it is the very issue mentioned in today’s McCain resolution. Is placing this after the McCain resolution supposed to soften the blow of the HIP and GHI fiasco? Are we to believe that the state will share the conversion money with employees? What does that even look like? Can we all expect a check for 30 grand in the mail sometime soon?

AND: Some people are saying this is no big deal. Remember Blue Cross Blue Shield? Well let’s take a look at it: In the case of Blue Cross Blue Shield, the process of conversion took place at a much slower rate than the proposed HIP and GHI conversion. In addition, Blue Cross Blue Shield was a vast national network of non-profit providers that was privatized piece-by-piece in states across the country. This allowed groups such as Consumers Union to study the effects of privatization since one part of the network operated as non-profit and the other as for-profit. They found that the privatized “Blues” spent less money on providing healthcare to subscribers. Their spending on healthcare as a percentage of total revenue = 73.5%, while the non-profit “Blues” was 83.7%. Privatized “Blues” pumped up the spending on administration (ie. CEO salaries). Their spending on administration was 23.4%, while the non-profit “Blues” was only 13%. Finally, one market analyst delivered cryptic testimony about the difference between non-profit and for-profit carriers: “In 9 out of 10 individual decisions they’ll decide the same thing, but the issue is the impact of the 1-in-10 decision where they will differ?” In other words, do you want to be that 10th person who is denied care? The person who pays the higher deductible? The person who gets dropped by the for-profit carrier? All to enhance the salary of a CEO or increase share holder returns?

AND: Speaking of studies…why has there not been an impact study done on the effects that the HIP and GHI conversion might have on the public? Recently, in four other states, including Kansas and Washington, outside investigators and researchers were brought in and their findings in each case led to a decision to deny the proposal to privatize health insurance companies with the same or similar make-up to HIP and GHI. Do we matter enough to work toward demanding the same kind of care and consideration given to four other states in similar situations to ours today?

AND: At the April DA, Randi said that it would be foolish to oppose the privatization of HIP and GHI because the state already approved its conversion. That is inaccurate. The state said they would allow it to go through if Eric Dinallo approves it. One man holds the key here. Surely, we can pressure him to oppose this privatization proposal.

LAST: HOLD ONTO YOUR SEATS: From the New York City Independent Budget Office (March 24, 2008) “In addition, the preliminary budget and financial plan may underestimate the cost of health insurance for municipal employees and retirees. Higher health insurance inflation and a greater number of retirees than anticipated in the Mayor’s budget could increase costs by roughly $37 million in 2009 and $48 million by 2012. IBO projects that the merger and proposed for-profit conversion of GHI and HIP could add $300 million or more to annual city health insurance spending.” WHO WILL PAY FOR THIS FOLKS???

Anonymous said...

July 1 meeting?

Either its a massive apartment capable of hosting the hundreds of thousands of ICE supporters


The few loyalists fit in the 350 sq ft apt.

July 1 . . .

Make sure you have some ICE on hand . . .

Joss Stone Fan said...

An anonymous reader asked
"Why can we nix McCain’s privatization bill but not the HIP and GHI privatization proposal?"

Ah, I can hear an old tune -- "What's It All About, Alfie?"*

As in all matters political, follow two related but not necessarily identical matters: Money, and Power.

The fact is that the UFT's leadership's supporting GHI/HIP will not significantly diminish its power (unless the general membership wakes up and exercises its collective intellect). So, more importantly, the UFT's leadership's supporting GHI/HIP will increase its coffers.

by Joss Stone
Cher version:
Whitney Huston version:

What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
Then I guess it's wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie,
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there's something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.
Until you find the love you've missed you're nothing, Alfie.
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you'll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie
would you tell me what's it all about?
what's it all about? Alfie, Alfie, Alfie.
What's it all about? Whats this all about?
what's it all about Alfie? tell me
what's it all about Alfie? what's it all about Alfie?
Just tell me yeah. what's it all about?
What's it all about?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous June 21, 2008 10:50:00 PM, I wasn't at the rally but I did post that. I spoke with Norm that evening and he said that John did a great job speaking.

Anonymous June 22, 2008 10:13:00 AM, our July 1st venue is large enough to hold several hundred people. We will be discussing several issues that Unity has been negligent in dealing with. It will also be a celebration for all of those who have been active throughout this past year. As a thank you, we will be barbecuing afterwards (there will be plenty burgers and franks) and celebrating the beginning of the summer.

All are invited to this family event (yes, you can bring your children), it will be held at 1615 Avenue I, Apt. 116 in Brooklyn.

I hope to see everyone there,

James Eterno

Anonymous said...

I have a question?

Did ICE send out notices to all the media that Nader would be there?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Unity is growing on me.

His new stuff is more creative than the ICE ICE baby stuff.

Mr. Unity,

The irony here is that one day you will be working with us and we will never know your true identity.

So be it.
Oh yes, after the BBQ, we will all have a chance to swim in Vera's new built-in pool that runs adjacent to the bowling alley she had installed last year around this time.

The ICE meeting will be featured on an upcoming episode of MTV cribs.

Have a good summer Unity man.

-Ghost of Al Shanker

Anonymous said...

Unity people have sunk to an all time low by impersonating me and signing my name to comments I didn't make. Saturday, June 21 at 5:33 p.m is not me and Sunday at 3:57 p.m. is not me either.

If you must monitor this blog, at least say who you are and don't try to say that you are me.

I would post using my own name but my password no longer works.

The real James Eterno

Anonymous said...

One more point before I head off to sleep. Unity is doing a lousy job of spying on me as I was at the R.E.M. concert on Thursday and would not have spoken to Norm or anyone else for that matter. I was too busy having a good time.

At least I'm not afraid to admit who I am.

The Real James Eterno

Anonymous said...

You were losing your religion. Does that make you Shiny Happy People? Oh and Everybody Hurts when Randi signs those contracts.