AFT on the Frontlines of Healthcare Reform

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President Barack Obama took the first step in fulfilling his promise to reform the nation's healthcare system on March 5, when leaders of labor, business and consumer groups, as well as members of Congress, gathered for the White House Forum on Health Reform. AFT vice president Ann Twomey was among the participants.

"There is a clear consensus that the need for healthcare reform is here and now," President Obama said in the opening session of the summit. The Obama administration is focused on reform because of the continued escalation of healthcare costs for families, business and government. Reform is needed to bring costs under control, to improve the quality of healthcare and to help the uninsured.

The AFT is prepared to work with the White House, Congress and other stakeholders on the much-needed reform of our healthcare system. "It is important that those efforts include the voices of healthcare workers, such as the women and men we are proud to represent, on quality-of-care issues," says AFT president Randi Weingarten.

"Every day, nurses and caregivers across the nation struggle to provide high-quality healthcare under increasingly difficult conditions. More and more patients lack health insurance, and hospitals are dealing with precarious financial situations," says Twomey, who is president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees, New Jersey's largest union of registered nurses and healthcare professionals. "As the discussion moves forward, the American Federation of Teachers will advocate for reforms that will ensure safe patient care and safe working conditions."

The Obama administration hopes to have legislation in place to address healthcare reform this year. "We cannot delay this discussion any longer," Obama said. "Healthcare reform is no longer just a moral imperative, it's a fiscal imperative."

Before closing the session, the president addressed critics of his plan who say the administration is taking on too much by tackling healthcare in the midst of an economic crisis. "When times were good, we did not get it done. When we were in peace time, we did not get it done," he said. "There is always a reason not to do it. It strikes me that now is exactly the time for us to deal with the problem." He added that the American people, businesses and government are all seeking solutions. "What better time than now? And what better cause for us to take up?"

"I came away enormously hopeful about President Obama's commitment to moving toward a universal healthcare system and his political will to make it happen," Twomey says. "We can't reverse our nation's sagging economy until we fix our broken healthcare system, which is the most expensive in the world and yet is not accessible or affordable for all Americans."

March 6, 2009