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Recent meetings

A Discussion:
Medicare Commission Proposals; Good, Bad, and Downright Scary

The Federal Advisory Commission on Medicare was due to release its final report March 1, but did not actually make its final report until March 16. However, the shape of its proposals was clear from preliminary documents. The Commission's proposals were the topic of the March 4 meeting.

With qualified agreement from Republicans and some Democrats, the Commission's leaders want to replace the current system, in which Medicare acts as the single payer of covered health expenses for the nation's elderly. In its place, the Commission proposes giving each beneficiary a fixed amount of money to use in buying private insurance or paying for traditional Medicare. This is a voucher system going by the name of "a premium support model."

The purpose of the proposed changes in the program is to shift the costs of medical care away from the Medicare program and onto the personal expenses of the program's beneficiaries. This is not an interpretation of the intent of the Commission, it is a stated goal of the Commission.

Supporters of the proposal say it will reduce costs by encouraging seniors to shop around for the cheapest insurance. Critics point out that private insurance has higher administrative costs then Medicare, that private insurers often skimp on benefits to protect their bottom line, and that billions of tax dollars from the Medicare system would be diverted into corporate profits instead of care.

In addition, moving Medicare beneficiaries into private HMOs has already been problematic. More than 400,000 beneficiaries have been dropped by HMOs in the past six months because the HMOs said they weren't making enough money from Medicare business.

Democrats on the Commission, with support from President Clinton, propose adding prescription coverage to this plan. Drug companies are expected to oppose adding prescription coverage since Medicare, as a large purchaser, could then demand lower prices. Meanwhile hospitals favor moving beneficiaries into many separate plans, thinking that Medicare would then lose its current power over costs.

No Speaker

The scheduled speaker for our February meeting was unable to attend the meeting. We had a general discussion about how to raise funds to support meeting expenses, publications, and the Speaker's Bureau. There was also a discussion, useful if not conclusive, about the general state of the single-payer movement in the country and what we might do to advance the cause locally.

Union Support of Single-Payer

A discussion led by MichUHCAN activist David Green, M.D. on January 7, 1999. We learned about some of the complexities of the UAW contracts which weaken this union's support for a national health plan.

MichUHCAN Holiday Get-together

On Saturday, December 12, the party at Pat Cason's house in Detroit went pretty smoothly. The meat-eaters enjoyed the vegetarian dishes and the vegetarians ignored the stews and meat sauces with good humor. Everybody talked to at least one new person. It was a pretty relaxed affair, just as it was supposed to be. The stragglers even left without having to be told how late it was.

Reports, Steering Committee Elections

On Thursday, December 3, reports were given on the PNHP National Convention and the UHCAN National Convention recently held in Washington, DC; and on the Labor Party National Convention recently held in Philadelphia. Martha Gruelle, Ed Pintzuk, Susan Steigerwalt, Pat Cason, Julie Klinker, Art Myatt, Marilyn Schmidt, Flora Hommel, Claudia Seldon, and Martin Seldon were elected to the Steering committee for 1999.

A Financial Plan for a Single Payer Health System

How do we pay for single payer health care? The beauty of single payer is that there is a clear, logical, and achievable answer to this question. And MichUHCAN's own Ed Pintzuk has developed an educational tool to explain the answer - not only for us to learn from but for us to use as we promote single payer amongst the public. Ed presented the answer to this often asked question at our November meeting.

Thanks for Speaker's Training

A BIG thank-you to Marilyn Schmidt and Lydia Steinseifer for organizing October's three-part speaker's training and to Margie Mitchell for conducting the training. The workshop was a great success. It was captured on videotape to be used by others who were unable to attend. Again, thanks to the organizers and also to all who participated and will now venture out on their own to represent MichUHCAN.

"Fairness Agenda for America" Hearings Well Attended

More than 100 people turned out last month for hearings with Rep. Lynn Rivers and Rep. John Conyers on the "Fairness Agenda for America." MichUHCAN members Julie Klinker and Susan Steigerwalt testified on the devastating impact of health care downsizing and the growing number of uninsured, and called for support of a single payer system. While most in attendance are already supporters of a progressive agenda, the hearings were a good opportunity to build coalitions and demonstrate how most progressive issues are interdependent.

Caring for the Uninsured

Sister Rita Brocke spoke about The Thea Bowman Nurse Practice Center. Sister Rita is a founder of the Thea Bowman Nurse Practice Center in Highland Park. It is a free clinic for the uninsured who otherwise have no source of health care. Sister Rita shared her experiences providing care to the uninsured and discussed the difficulties of raising funds to support the work.

Reform or Revolution?
Patient Protection: What to do Now?

The September meeting, held on September 8, featured a discussion on the question of supporting incremental reforms of the health care system in the United States. Taking the side of supporting patients' rights and regulation of private health care insurers was Ed Pintzuk. Urging us to concentrate our efforts on the creation of a national health plan was Susan Steigerwalt. The ideas are not entirely incompatible. However, when it is a question of what the priorities of this organization will be and how we should make use of our limited resources, there is some real conflict between these two approaches.

Two years ago the Detroit Chapter of MichUHCAN decided to devote substantial energy toward getting patient protection legislation introduced and passed in Michigan, both in response to a real need for regulation of managed care and as a means of gaining a broader audience for talking about and lobbying for single payer, always our primary focus and ultimate goal. Well, now, in 1998, even the Republicans are promoting "Patient Protection" and passing bills that do little to protect the quality of or access to health care. In this context, MichUHCAN must rethink its stand on Patient Protection work.

MichUHCAN public forum:
Labor, Health Care and Social Justice

The forum was held on Saturday, Sept. 19, 1998, at UAW Local 417, 1640 Stephenson Highway, Troy MI (between 15 & 16 Mile). Speakers were

Tony Mazzocchi of the Labor Party
State Rep. David Gubow, Sponsor of Michigan Single Payer Bill
and Greg Conyers of the Michigan League for Human Services,

August Social Gathering - Potluck Picnic

In August, there was no meeting at our regular location. There was instead a backyard barbecue at Susan Steigerwalt's home on Saturday, August 8, from 5:00 to 9:00 PM.

Rep. John Conyers attended and spoke about the Patient Protection Bills in Congress.

Why You (Probably) Can't Sue Your HMO

The July meeting was held on July 9 to avoid conflict with the July 4 holiday weekend. Ann Thompson, a local lawyer who is all too familiar with the defects of the ERISA law, spoke about why this law, as it now stands, prevents a person who has health care coverage provided by her employer from holding the health care insurance company responsible in a court of law for the medical decisions made within the insurance company. Efforts are being made to change the federal law which shields the insurer. Insurance companies and HMOs are lobbying strongly against the proposed changes, which is a clue that these efforts are on the right track. Bills in Congress with effects on this issue were discussed.

Medicaid Managed Care

Beverly Lemle, who currently works at the Neighborhood service Organization, was unable to attend the June 4 meeting at which she was scheduled to speak on Medicaid Managed Care. Instead, we reviewed and discussed a set of informational slides on the statistics of the health care crisis which MichUHCAN recently obtained from Physicians for a National Health Plan. Ms. Lemle has agreed to present her talk at a later MichUHCAN meeting.

Nurses successfully Organized at POH

Janise Ripple is an RN at Pontiac Osteopathic Hospital and was a leader of the recent organizing effort at this health care facility. At the MichUHCAN regular meeting, Thursday evening, May 7, 1998, she gave a presentation on how the nurses and technicians at POH successfully organized with the UAW. The impact of such successes on health care delivery was discussed. One main point brought out was the fact that the POH management's treatment of the nurses and technicians was the most effective organizing tool for the union. In other words, the people working at this hospital were so mistreated and their working conditions were so degraded that they were ripe for organizing.

Hot off the Presses:

PNHP's new horrifying slides on the health care crisis

On Thursday, April 2, 1998, Dr. Susan Steigerwalt presented, in slide form, the newest data on for-profit health care corporations and the health care crisis. This well- researched set of over 100 slides (the source of each statistic is noted on the screen) will be available for speakers from MichUHCAN to use when presenting our point of view in other venues. This was also the regular membership meeting for the month of April.

DMC Management Response to Unsafe Practices

Presentation by Margot Reid at the MichUHCAN Detroit Chapter meeting, Thursday, March 5, 1998.

Margot Reid is a Detroit-area Nurse Administrator with expertise in dialysis care and management who was recently fired by the Detroit Medical Center after exposing gross problems with morbidity and mortality rates at the Sinai Hospital-based dialysis center (a jointly owned for-profit operation of the DMC and Henry Ford Hospitals). After bringing the dialysis-related problems to the attention of the administration, it was clear to Reid that proper actions to correct the deficiencies were not going to be taken, at which time Reid made it clear to administrators that she would make certain the proper authorities and agencies were notified.

Soon after, Reid was fired. Currently, Reid has a lawsuit pending against the DMC, David Campbell, and others involved. Families of patients who died as a result of unsafe dialysis practices have been picketing at Sinai Hospital.

"Fences" Fundraiser a Huge Success

Many thanks to all who supported our February 22 fundraiser at the Detroit Repertory Theatre - selling tickets, buying tickets, and spreading the word. A special thanks to Pat Cason and Marilyn Schmidt for their primary role in organizing the event.

It was a full house for the matinee performance of "Fences" which was enjoyed by all. Thanks to everyone's efforts, the Detroit Chapter of MichUHCAN raised well over $1000 which will allow us to continue our work to achieve quality health care for all.

1998 Steering Committee Named

At the February chapter meeting, the following individuals were named to the 1998 Steering Committee: Martha Gruelle (chair), Ed Pintzuk (co-chair), Susan Steigerwalt, Pat Cason, Martin Seldon, Claudia Seldon, David Green, Flora Hommel, and Julie Klinker. The Steering Committee meets monthly. Any MichUHCAN member is welcome to attend.

Detroit Chapter Prepares for 1998:

A Report from Recent Planning Retreat

by Martha Gruelle, Detroit Steering Committee

Ten active members of our chapter, and Marge Mitchell, the chairperson of statewide MichUHCAN, met for an intense Saturday session to look at where we are and how to move forward. (Thanks to Pat Cason for hosting the meeting, and to Claudia Seldon for planning ahead and baking enough goodies for two meetings).

Marge gave a report on statewide MichUHCAN, which has 24 member organizations and three chapters (Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Lansing). Activity in the statewide has declined since the Clinton health "plan" bit the dust; many organizations now see health care reform as less immediate. But MichUHCAN is still determined, and keeps alive the state's own single-payer bill, Michicare; backs patient protection at the state level; provides public education through local cable TV; and has recently joined the Michigan Consumer Health Coalition, which watch-dogs quality of care. Suggestions for improving the statewide's newsletter were discussed at our meeting.

Susan Steigerwalt reported on the Detroit chapter's beginnings and our recent history. In the past year, we shifted to an emphasis on protecting patients in managed care plans, hoping to open discussions on the need for a single-payer plan. The group discussed why this work has fallen short of our hopes; communication problems internally and with friendly legislators, the uninspiring nature of this very partial step; and our inability to tie the issues to real people's immediate problems and fears.

On the national scene, Susan observed that "activity is fractured." Attention has turned to state level, not federal campaigns including work on patient protection, conversion of hospitals to for-profit status, and single-payer initiative work.

Much of this organizing is "health care worker-driven," says Susan, including the National Call to Action committee of health care workers (mostly doctors and nurses), which is challenging for-profit conversions. We discussed the local Call to Action Committee, the health care advisory group organized by City Council Member Maryann Mahaffey, and the coalition organizing around the Detroit Medical Center.

Ed Pintzuk gave a look ahead. He showed the continuing rise in health care expenditures as a fraction of the economy and predicted that HMOs will see less increase in profitability (not that they'll lose money!). Ed mentioned the 27 bills now in Congress to regulate managed care organizations, and said such regulation can help only if public pressure is continually applied.

We discussed but did not resolve questions of whether political forces would actually limit the growth in health care spending, and whether our friends and neighbors ("the public") would support or reject a challenge to profit-making in health care.

The group identified three priorities for the coming year:

  1. Outreach for single-payer - through sending speakers, staffing literature tables, and holding informal meetings with leaders/members of groups we would like to work with.
  2. Building ties with Detroit's African-American community.
  3. Helping people who have immediate problems getting care through HMOs/managed care organizations - especially in the Medicaid HMOs. Being knowledgeable on the steps they need to take and advising them on the process.

For starters, members at the meeting made plans to staff tables at several upcoming events and to sponsor a participatory training for speakers; we planned to invite a member of a Black physicians's group to speak at an upcoming meting and to keep members informed about organizing at the Detroit Medical Center; we planned to talk with two group s we believe will be active advocates for people in Medicaid and HMOs and report on their work at an upcoming chapter meeting with a view toward helping out.

As usual, MichUHCAN Detroit chapter activists have outlined an ambitious program - but that's not all! We also agreed to try to reach all those in our area who are members but aren't active, and see if there's's some way they'd like to take part. You needn't wait for that call. See How to get involved with MichUHCAN, or call Marilyn (248-674-3520) or Ed (248-737-2275).


Anne Jenks of the California Nurses Association discussed the Single Payer Movement in California and how they helped build a strong coalition for health care justice. Steering Committee elections originally scheduled for this meeting were tabled because of extended discussion of California events.


On November 6, MichUHCAN's new piece of literature called "Facts About Health Care Reform" was discussed. In printed form, the essential facts are laid out on one side of one sheet of paper, suitable for distribution at any political event. The version available on this web site, while including the same facts, will print up on several sheets of paper because of the constraints of HTML. If you wish to have a copy of the printed flyer, e-mail MichUHCAN.

On Thursday, October 2, 1997, at the regular membership meeting, a panel of nurses discussed the deterioration in patient care in some Detroit hospitals caused by cutting hospital nursing staff and attempting to have the work done by technicians who generally have little or no medical training, and by cutting back on home care visitiations. It was brought out that patients in hospitals are ususally not aware of the qualifications (or lack of qualifications) of the people who are administering treatments, drawing blood, or dispensing medications.

On Friday, September 26, statewide MichUHCAN held a rally to mark the 30th anniversary of Medicare from noon to 2:00 Pm at the Federal Building in Detroit. Signatures to oversized postcards circulated at the Sept. 26 Medicare Rally and thereafter are being sent to President Clinton. Over 300 signatures urge Clinton to "lead the crusade to make healthcare a right, not a privilege in America," and to "protect Medicare at all costs and expand it to all Americans."

On Thursday, September 4, State Senator Alma Wheeler-Smith was the guest speaker at our membership meeting. (See plans for July, below.)

Nurse's Conference Was Big Success

Nearly 100 Detroit-area nurses, including some MichUHCAN members, attended a conference presented by the California Nurses Association on August 20. Participants were informed about how corporate America is driving the changes in health care that directly affect working nurses each day through such things as understaffing, overwork and marked decline in quality of patient care. Nurses learned about strategies to protect themselves and their patients and heard repeatedly the message of becoming empowered through conviction, cooperation, and coalition. Several nurses met with Kit Costello, President, CNA, on August 21, to discuss near-future organizing goals for Detroit nurses. Expect to see more from Detroit nurses in the months and years to come.

The plan for Thursday, July 10, was to have State Senator Alma Wheeler-Smith as the guest speaker at the regular Detroit-area membership meeting. The Senator has introduced a patient protection bill into the state legislature which was to have been the main topic of discussion. However, she was unable to attend because the legislature was still in extended session. Instead, this web site, which was first activated over the July 4 weekend, was discussed and demonstrated, the opening of the Thea Bowman Nurse Managed Center (a non-profit center for primary care for the uninsured) in Highland Park was applauded, and other issues were discussed. Senator Wheeler-Smith will be rescheduled.

At the regular membership meeting on June 5, 1997 in Berkley, Detroit City council President Maryanne Mahaffey was the guest speaker. She discussed health care problems facing the city of Detroit.

There was no central speaker at the May 1, 1977 membership meeting in Berkley. The agenda focused on how to effectively support pending Michigan state legislation and how to get other organizations interested in coalition building.

Over 60 people turned out in East Lansing on April 26, 1977 at a forum organized by MichUHCAN, Health Care for Sale? The audience heard how the powerful Columbia/HCA was dealt a blow when Attorney General Frank Kelley filed suit and got a ruling by the Ingham County Circuit Court that such a deal as proposed by the not-for-profit Michigan Capital Healthcare and the for-profit Columbia/HCA violates state regulations of non-profit corporations and charitable trusts. Though the ruling is being appealed, such rulings can slow down Columbia's race to buy up health care.

Keynote speaker Dr. Quentin Young gave a first-hand account of how Chicago's Michael Reese Hospital, where he is employed, has been affected since being bought by Columbia/ HCA. Speaking in favor of a single-payer health plan, he reminded us that Medicare, the "most popular and successful social justice program ever" (and a single-payer system) celebrates its' anniversary on July 30 which we should be celebrating across the nation. He also pointed out that despite the value of patient-protection bills, "legislators are ill-equipped to write medical practice acts - it won't get us there." We all must be actively involved and must keep pushing for more comprehensive reform.

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This page was updated November 30, 1998.