Includes recent updates


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New IAM Department Offers Health Insurance Bush Medicare Plan
Hits GOP Snag
Democrats Offer
Single Payer Health Plan
Senate Bill Expands
Family Leave Act
Do You Have a Problem
With Back Pain?
Despite Deaths,
Bush Waters Down Rules
Seniors' Boycott
Targets Glaxo
The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act (HR 1886)
Physicians Prescribe National Health Care  NEW  02/17/04
HEALTH CARE: Health care a right for all citizens, unions say

 Do you have a problem with low back pain?
January 26, 2003

A substantially high amount of people in workplaces today are suffering from low back pain or low back Musculoskeletal disorders, which is both common and costly.  Causes for low back pain can be from any number of strenuous demands placed on the body, such as awkward postures, repetitive work, holding a fixed position for various amounts of time or a combination of things.

It has been substantiated that there is a familiarity between some work activities and awkward postures as contributing factors of low back pain.  Some industries and specific jobs make workers more susceptible to low back pain.  According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), back pain is one of the most common and significant musculoskeletal problems in the world.

A few years ago, back disorders accounted for 27 percent of all nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses that involved days away from work in the U.S.  According to a recent study, the average cost of a workers’ compensation claim for a low back disorder was approximately $8,300, which was more than twice the average cost of $4,075 for all compensable claims combined.

It is estimated that the total cost of low back pain in 1990 was from $50 billion to $100 billion per year, with a substantial amount being carried by the workers’ compensation organization. Workers whose jobs require heavy lifting or awkward postures are being exposed to situations that may cause low back disorders.  Some preventative measures have included standing up occasionally, working in awkward positions, staying active, or simply stretching periodically.

Low back disorders will not go away without interested parties working together to identify the hazards and come up with interventions to improve the safety of workers in many occupations.

Reference or for more information:, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NORA-Low Back Disorders

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Bush Medicare Plan Hits GOP Snag
A White House plan to reshape Medicare ran into a roadblock erected by key House Republicans, including some whose job it is to steer Bush’s plan through the House. Several House leaders warned VP Dick Cheney and White House officials that any Medicare revision would have to provide prescription drug coverage for all Medicare beneficiaries even if they remain in the traditional fee-for-service program.

Both the pharmaceutical industry and major insurance providers have strongly lobbied President Bush for measures that would force seniors to join health maintenance organizations or similar plans in order to get the prescription drug coverage.

A draft being circulated to Hill leaders would require Medicare beneficiaries to move to a private health plan—PPOs, preferred provider organizations, which are a form of managed care—as a condition for obtaining drug coverage.

“Because elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries are high users of medical care, companies that operate PPOs have looked on the program as a poor business risk,” said a report in Congress Daily. That premise “can be shown by the fact that when Medicare formally opened to PPOs in 1997, not one signed up,” the article noted.

“The Alliance for Retired Americans is adamantly opposed to linking drug coverage to private plans,” stressed an ARA spokesman. “The President’s proposal is just another attempt to dismantle the existing Medicare program. The Alliance will do whatever is necessary to defeat this proposal.”

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Democrats Offer Single-Payer Health Plan
A pair of Democrats who’ve long championed working families introduced a House bill that would create a national single-payer health care plan. Representatives John Conyers of Michigan and Jim McDermott floated the bill this week.

The plan would expand the current Medicare system to all U.S. citizens and fund it through both the existing Medicare tax and a new payroll tax. It would provide coverage for primary care, prescription drugs, dental and vision services. It would also keep the current system of private physicians and hospitals.

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Senate Bill Expands Family Leave Act
Senator Chris Dodd, D-CT, introduced a bill that would expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover more workers and allow more reasons for taking the unpaid leave. Also, under a $400 million pilot program, the bill would allow states to provide six weeks of paid leave for births, adoptions or because of an ill family member.

Under current law, workers may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for newborns, adopted children, or seriously ill family members. Although studies have shown the law is popular among workers, many of them cannot take advantage of it because they cannot afford to take unpaid leave, Dodd explained.

The proposed measure marks the 10th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act. By contrast, Republicans marked the anniversary by pushing a so-called “comp time” plan that allows employers to offer unpaid compensatory time in lieu of paid overtime.

“Here we go again,” scoffed IP Tom Buffenbarger. “This is just another backdoor assault on the 40-hour week and fair labor standards.”

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Despite Deaths, Bush Waters Down Rules
Under heavy pressure from meat industry lobbyists, the Bush administration watered-down proposed rules to protect consumers from the deadly Listeria bacteria. The meat industry contributed generously to Republicans in the last election cycle.

After seven people died and dozens more were hospitalized from a Listeria outbreak last year, the Agriculture Department devised a plan to protect the public from further outbreaks. It would have put federal inspectors inside the plants that produce ready-to-eat meat products, such as bologna and other deli meats.

Meat industry lobbyists objected and took their complaints directly to the White House. After a White House review, the USDA issued much weaker rules. Industry lobbyists were ecstatic with their success. They crowed that USDA staffers “bought into much of the industry proposal” and said the new rules were the result of “industry efforts at the White House level,” according to Time Magazine.

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Seniors’ Boycott Targets Glaxo
A growing number of senior citizens and retirees are signing onto a boycott of over-the-counter products produced by pharmaceutical giant Glaxo-Smith-Kline. The boycott protests the firm’s actions in cutting off supplies of its prescription medicines to Canadian pharmacies that sell to Americans.

The Glaxo products on the boycott list include the antacid Tums, Aquafresh toothpaste, Contac cold remedy and dozens of other products. Many affiliates of the Alliance for Retired Americans took up the fight. The 15,000-member Minnesota Senior Federation, an Alliance affiliate, is spearheading several actions against Glaxo.

Other affiliates held rallies protesting Glaxo’s actions. “If Glaxo can afford to sell the drugs in Canada at that price, why should they object when Canada sells them back here?” asked Phil Member, president of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council.

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Visit the IAM's Health Care Issues page at

New IAM Department Offers Health Insurance
Out-of work IAM members and their families now have a less expensive alternative to COBRA, the costly and temporary insurance program for unemployed workers.

The IAM Employment Services Department and Employment Benefits Systems (EBS), a major provider of health insurance policies, is offering three health care plans for out-of-work IAM members and their families. The plans provide the same coverage as COBRA insurance, but at a much lower cost.

The temporary and permanent major medical plans are available in 40 states and have a range of benefits, deductibles and eligibility requirements. For more information about the program, contact Tony Chapman, director of the IAM Employment Services Department, or visit their new website at
Health Insurance for Unemployed Workers

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The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act (HR 1886) will require insurance companies to cover a minimum hospital stay of 48 hours for patients undergoing mastectomy breast surgery. You can help ensure this critical legislation is passed by signing the online petition now.

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Physicians Prescribe National Health Care
Nearly 8,000 U.S. doctors signed a petition calling for a national health insurance plan that would cover every American and save billions of dollars in the process.

The physicians are promoting a government-financed single payer system to replace the hopelessly tangled network of private health care plans, HMO’s and for-profit hospitals. “The system cannot continue much longer the way it is, “ said Marcia Angell, a Harvard Medical School lecturer. “It’s clearly imploding.”

The doctors’ proposal would cover everything from prescription drugs and hospitalization to dental and mental-health care. Under the current system, millions of Americans overpay for their health care coverage and nearly 40 million have no health insurance at all.

The proposal for single-payer national health care is certain to revive opposition from pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and lobbyists for the managed care industry. “These are some of the most profitable companies on the face of the earth,” said Steve Sleigh, director of IAM Strategic Resources Dept. “They will stop at nothing to preserve the current system, no matter how large the cracks and no matter how many fall through.”

Additional information about the single payer national health plan is available at

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HEALTH CARE: Health care a right for all citizens, unions say
Pioneer Press

The struggle to fix Minnesota's ailing health care system took an unusual twist Thursday when officials from more than a dozen major labor unions called for the adoption of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing every Minnesotan the right to affordable health care.

If the amendment were adopted, Minnesota would be the first state in the nation with such a provision, the labor officials said.

"Our Constitution provides us the right to see a lawyer if we're charged with a crime, the right to a public education and the right to hunt and fish," said Steve Hunter, secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. "We feel that if you are sick, you have a right to see a health care professional."

Adding a 13th amendment to the Minnesota Constitution would be a daunting task. First, a bill to have the question placed on the 2004 election ballot would need to pass both the Republican-controlled House and the DFL-controlled Senate.

Once on the ballot, a majority of voters who cast ballots in the election would need to approve the question for the amendment to be adopted.

An attempt to adopt a similar amendment was attempted in 1990 but failed after opponents contended it would boost health care costs.

Although the labor leaders' proposal lacks legislative sponsors, Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said they have been working on similar bills.

Labor leaders said they are calling for the amendment because people are concerned about losing their coverage.

"In poll after poll, Minnesotans keep telling us that they're being priced out of health care," said AFL-CIO President Ray Waldron. "Their benefits are eroding. And they're worried."

The union officials' proposal does not spell out how the state would achieve the goal. But it does say it's the responsibility of the governor and the Legislature to implement the legislation to ensure the right.

Hunter said the labor groups want to see the amendment on the November general election ballot and implemented by July 4, 2006.

Michael Scandrett, a member of the Minnesota Citizens Forum on Health Care Costs, said the issue raised by the amendment needs more discussion, but he wasn't sure if amending the Constitution is the right approach.

"It leaves a few questions unanswered," Scandrett said. "What are you entitled to? We have a rough form of universal access now. If you get hurt in an accident, you get treated whether you have health care or not. Does it mean the state guarantees coverage, or is it a matter of people enforcing their rights if they are denied their health care?"

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has not seen the proposal, had no comment.

"However, there would be obvious concerns about how much it would cost," said his spokesman, Daniel Wolter. "We'd be interested to know how Sen. Berglin and Rep. Huntley plan to pay for their proposal, as well as the long-term fiscal impact."
Tom Majeski, who covers medical news, can be reached at or 651-222-2346.

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