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  July 13, 2017

'No Compromise on Health Care': Michael Lighty of National Nurses United

With Senate Republicans dithering over the new version of the Health Care Bill, Michael Lighty of the National Nurses United says Democrats should offer no compromises and progressives should fight for single payer
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Michael Lighty is the Director of Public Policy for National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association. Michael is also a Fellow at the Sanders Institute. He has served on the Oakland Planning Commission, and on community, education and political organizations' boards of directors. He was the first openly LGBTQ Commissioner for the Port of Oakland.


SHARMINI PERIES: It's the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. The senate Republicans are getting ready for another go at repealing and replacing the Affordable Health Care Act. Mitch McConnell is expected to bring the latest version to a vote next week. This version of the bill is aimed at winning over additional votes, but Senator Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, and Rand Paul, Republican from Kentucky, are firmly against the bill. One more defection from the Republican side will kill the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that if this bill does not pass, he will reach out to Democrats, trying to come up with an alternative.

On to talk about this bill with me is Michael Lighty. He is the director of public policy for National Nurses United. Michael, good to have you with us again.

MICHAEL LIGHTY: Thank you, Sharmini. Great to see you again.

SHARMINI PERIES: Michael, let me start off with giving you an opportunity to address what's in this bill, or this version of the bill, that wasn't there before.

MICHAEL LIGHTY: The primary change in the main bill is the so called Cruz amendment. It makes me kind of long for the days where the Republicans just stuck to tax cuts for the wealthy, because now that they're actually dabbling in health policy, it's getting worse. The Cruz amendment would essentially say, "Okay, for all you people who are currently healthy, you're going to get a cheap plan, and for those of you who are currently sick, you're going to get a really expensive plan. We're going to give more tax subsidies so you can buy those expensive plans", so it's a great deal for the insurers. It's a terrible deal for patients, terrible deal for nurses and doctors as well, and it really undermines any notion that we're all in this together.

The truth is, Sharmini, you don't know. Yeah, this year you're healthy, this month you're healthy, this day you're healthy. What about tomorrow? After a severe accident? All of a sudden, that $10,000 deductible plan doesn't look like such a good deal. They really don't know what they're talking about when it comes to health care.

SHARMINI PERIES: Alright. Now I guess let's talk of whether this bill will even pass next week.

MICHAEL LIGHTY: Rightly so, because now you've got Senators Cassidy from Louisiana and Graham from South Carolina suggesting, "Here's the different approach." Then there's the issue they're not putting any more money into Medicaid. They're just putting more money into subsidizing private insurance. You got to wonder at what point someone like Senator Heller realizes the tens of thousands of Nevadans who are going to lose health care as a result of this bill. Why should he vote for it? Really, this whole notion is being motivated by the Republican face anyway. It's a very unpopular piece of legislation, so I think they're really in a hard space politically. Now that they've got a competing proposal, it just doesn't look like it's coming together for them. Thank goodness.

SHARMINI PERIES: Thank goodness. Of course, Mitch McConnell has also said that if this bill doesn't pass this time around, he will reach out to Democrats in order to see what support he can get from the Democrats to pass a Republican bill. Where do you think that will go?

MICHAEL LIGHTY: I don't think it will go anywhere, and it shouldn't, because frankly, Democrats have no business shoring up a worse version of the Affordable Care Act. Why are we going to continue to spend our money, either businesses, individual workers, government, to subsidize the insurance company profits? It doesn't make any sense. They're wasting our money, they're denying care, and Democrats need to say, "Clearly, Medicare For All is the only solution." The entire political establishment on the Democratic side, and now on the Republican side, is telling people, "Don't do Improved Medicare For All." Yet, there's this upsurge and it's more popular than ever. More people support Improved Medicare For All than support the ACA or the GOP repeal. That's for sure. Democrats need to actually have a real alternative to shoring up the insurance industry, and that is Improved Medicare For All that guarantees health care for all. That really is where they need to be. These faux negotiations to shore up the insurers or help pharma are a dead end politically for Democrats.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Then of course there's the question, where should progressives be putting their support around? Should they try to fix with the Republicans, try to fix the Affordable Health Care Act and make it palatable, or should we abandon that and proceed to fighting for the single-payer proposal that the nurses have put forward?

MICHAEL LIGHTY: I think we should do single-payer, Improved Medicare For All. It's popular. It's an issue that's supported by 70% or 80% of Democrats, depending on the poll. Now tell me this. Is there an issue on the Republican side with that level of support that they're not pursuing? No, there isn't. In fact, the GOP repeal does enjoy that level of support among some Republicans. The Democratic position is clear. It's popular. It works. It eliminates the insurance company premiums, deductibles, and co-pays that are literally killing us. It solves the problem of Americans who don't get the health care they need because they can't afford it. It really is the best alternative. That's the way to defeat the GOP. That's the way to defeat Trump on this issue, is to say, "We've got a better alternative. It works. It's popular. Let's do it. Let's get the insurers out of here."

SHARMINI PERIES: Alright. Let's get your prognosis on whether this bill is going to pass next week.

MICHAEL LIGHTY: It looks very iffy to me. I just don't see a senator like Senator Heller from Nevada, who's in a very tough fight in '18, deciding that this vehicle is a winner for him. It just isn't. It's bad for Nevadans. Certainly, it's bad for the country. You look at the deal that they've got on the table now. It's not going to get Rand Paul, not going to get Susan Collins, who is seriously considering Maine governor. Those are three very unlikely votes to get. There are others out there too. Obviously, Senator Murkowski in Alaska. You just don't see the politics coming together yet from the GOP. They've jettisoned a big tax cut to the wealthy and trying to make this a little more palatable, but the truth is, now that they're actually engaged in health policy, they're making it worse. We just got to get them to stop.

SHARMINI PERIES: Alright, Michael. I thank you so much for joining us today.

MICHAEL LIGHTY: Thank you, Sharmini. Nice to see you.

SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.


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