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Nurses Fight for Medicaid, Medicare

By Clyde Weiss and Jon Melegrito
Ensuring A Decent Retirement
Ensuring A Decent Retirement | More than 300 members of AFSCME-United Nurses of America attended the 13th UNA National Nurses Congress. Workshops included threats to traditional, defined-benefit pension plans and how to combat those threats. (Photo by Luis Goméz)

Threats to Medicaid and Medicare claimed the attention of more than 300 AFSCME-represented nurses at the 13th National Nurses Congress, hosted by AFSCME-United Nurses of America. Held this past spring during National Nurses Week, the meeting gave the nurses an opportunity to lobby members of Congress to prevent funding cuts to retiree programs that would endanger patients.

Under a House-passed budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis) that was later rejected by the Senate, the federal government could no longer guarantee Medicare benefits and affordable premiums for those currently under age 55. Instead, more than 20 million Americans would be given underfunded vouchers to shop for coverage from private insurance companies.

The bill also would cut $1.4 trillion from Medicaid, which provides health care to 60 million low-income Americans, half of them children. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that by 2022, under this House budget plan, federal spending for Medicaid would be 35 percent lower than current projected federal spending.

The cuts would increase costs for states and force them to devote more state resources to health care. In most cases, states also would be forced to reduce nursing home care and other long-term services for seniors and people with disabilities.

“Nurses are on the frontline of providing care,” Pres. Gerald W. McEntee told attendees at the Congress. “They know better than anyone that cuts to Medicare or Medicaid will mean inadequate health insurance or no health insurance for many Americans. That means they won’t get the care they need when they need it.”

Also addressing the nurses was Kathy J. Sackman, RN, an AFSCME International vice president who recently retired as president of United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals.

AFSCME represents more than 360,000 health care workers (including more than 60,000 nurses) across the nation.

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