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Opinion: Coronavirus Makes it More Clear Than Ever: Health Care is a Human Right

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Who is going to pay for this?

For months that question was used as a weapon against supporters of Medicare for All. Now, it is on everyone’s mind as they worry about the costs of the testing and treatment for the coronavirus. The virus is highly contagious. We need everyone with symptoms to get tested and all with the virus to get treatment. If anyone hesitates because they fear they can’t afford the cost, they put the rest of us at risk.

No one should be worried about the costs of treatment.

Those costs, however, are going to be staggering, particularly if the fears of the administration’s leading expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, are realized and a million or more may become infected with the disease. Hospitalization and treatment will cost hundreds of billions. The average cost of hospitalization for pneumonia patients is about $20,000, but many coronavirus patients tend to need to stay on ventilators longer and fight off more complications than pneumonia patients.

Across the country, Americans are terrified at the potential costs if they get sick. Twenty-seven million Americans have no health insurance at all. Four in 10 working Americans have a high-deductible plan that forces them to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket before they get benefit from the premiums taken out of their paychecks each week.

A 2009 Harvard Medical School study estimated that every year an estimated 45,000 people in the U.S. die because of lack of health care coverage. Many suffer because they put off necessary treatment because they can’t afford it. Now, as Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Cal., put it, “The reality is, there are a lot of people that are thinking, ‘I don’t want a couple thousand-dollar bill to get tested or get treated.”

The rescue bill just passed by Congress covers the costs of testing. Trump promised that any cost of treatment also would be covered, but the insurance lobby immediately corrected him. Since then, under immense pressure, Cigna and Humana have joined CVS Aetna insurance in agreeing to waive patient cost-sharing on treatment for those insured.

Hopefully, this will reassure people enough that they won’t avoid getting tested and treated, posing the threat to all. But this won’t be charity. Some health-care analysts think the insurance industry could benefit from the pandemic because people generally are putting off visits to doctors and hospitals as much as possible.

In any case, insurers admit that if the costs soar they will factor it into the cost of plans next year. As Peter Lee, the head of Covered California, an independent state agency, noted, insurers are likely to seek rates next year that are double their additional costs from the virus. If costs go up 20 percent, rates could jump as much as 40 percent. That could mean, Lee warned, “many of the 170 million Americans in the commercial market may lose their coverage and go without needed care.”

The insurers will sustain their profits; it’s the patients who will suffer.

The government is investing billions of dollars to develop a vaccine for the virus, and to develop other drugs that can help treat it. Yet, because the government turns over any drug developed to the private pharmaceutical companies, Health Secretary Alex Azar — a former lobbyist for the drug companies — said he couldn’t guarantee that the treatments would be affordable. Already, as the Intercept reported, bankers are goading drug companies to prepare to raise prices to benefit from the expected demand.

The U.S. spends about twice as much per capita for its patchwork health-care system than most industrialized countries. Why were we caught with such shortages of masks, ventilators or hospital beds?

A central reason is that about $500 billion of what we spend on health care each year doesn’t go to health care. It is wasted on costly bureaucracies needed to bill the maze of private insurers or track down patients for their co-pays. It goes to hundreds of billions in profits for insurance companies and drug companies. It goes to excessive CEO salaries rising to $80 million or so a year.

In the end, the federal government will and should step up to cover the costs of all testing and treatment for the pandemic. It will have to reimburse states to cover soaring Medicaid and hospital costs. It will pay for developing the necessary drugs. It will pay for the costs of covering seniors under Medicare. It will pay for the costs incurred by those without insurance or with employer-based insurance. Yet, in part because of this, the insurance companies and drug companies will keep racking up record profits.

At this point, the overriding imperative is that every person in the U.S. understand that they should get the testing and treatment they need. All should be reassured that their costs will be covered. Congress went part of the way with the last rescue package. It should finish the job, preferably by having Medicare pay for all the costs directly.

But we shouldn’t be satisfied with single-payer coverage just during a massive pandemic. This crisis exposes dramatically the foolishness of pretending that health care is a private marketplace. Health care is a human right. This pandemic gives ample evidence of why we need to move to a Medicare for All system where high-quality health care is guaranteed to all.

Bay Area

Grassroots Group Unites to Help Community Breathe During Wildfire Season

The attendance at each build event has, accordingly, increased each week (there were over 60 volunteers at the previous event) with over 800 high-quality purifiers assembled so far. 

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CHC Air Purifier Build

Wildfire season is hitting California hard this year. Fires fueled by climate change are burning across the state in record sizes and numbers, devastating communities and turning the skies red with smoke.

During these times, it is easy to feel helpless, especially when the underlying causes of these crises are so monumental. What can ordinary people possibly do to address each other’s health and survival?

The Common Humanity Collective (CHC) might have the beginnings of an answer. CHC came together at the beginning of the pandemic as a small group of friends, neighbors, and UC Berkeley graduate students to create alternative ways to produce and distribute hand sanitizer and high-filtration face masks in the Bay Area when these basic resources had disappeared from store shelves.

CHC’s momentum grew as more people joined the effort—expanding to over 300 volunteers, who coalesced into decentralized groupings across the Bay—to build PPE and slow the spread of COVID-19. So far, the collective has distributed over 60,000 DIY face masks and over 7,000 gallons of sanitizer, all for free.

Now, recognizing the harmful effects of smoke and air pollutants during the wildfire crisis, the collective is building high-quality DIY air purifiers so individuals and families can filter the poisonous air that billows into their homes.

Every other Saturday since the first signs of smoke, community members, students, teachers, organizers, tenants, and workers of the East Bay have come together to build these air purifiers and get them out to the most affected parts of their communities.

Over 130 people from over 10 different Bay Area organizations have participated in these builds. The efforts have grown to include members of the tenant group, Tenant and Neighborhood Councils; East Bay and SF chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America; the Sunrise Movement; Mask Oakland; other mutual aid groups, as well as friends, families, and loved ones.

These DIY purifiers are comparable to significantly more expensive ($100+) commercial purifiers and can filter a room full of smoke and particulates down to healthy levels within a similar period of time as commercial products.

CHC distributes purifiers to the most polluted and least-resourced communities in Oakland and Berkeley, occasionally in partnership with organizations such as East Oakland Collective and Tenant and Neighborhood Councils. The group also makes a determined effort to recruit the recipients of the purifiers to participate in future builds and personally distribute purifiers they assemble to their neighbors and friends.

Traditional nonprofits that act as a stopgap measure against government austerity often have a deactivating and demobilizing effect on the beneficiaries of their goodwill. This can perpetuate a vicious cycle of alienation and reliance among working people.

In contrast, by urging such people to assume ownership of the processes of production and distribution of these essential tools, the work of mutual aid aims to increase their autonomy, their solidarity, and their participation in decisions that affect their survival.

The attendance at each build event has, accordingly, increased each week (there were over 60 volunteers at the previous event) with over 800 high-quality purifiers assembled so far.

So, what can we do? We may not be able to flip a switch to eradicate the pandemic or the wildfires, but we can build tools to help each other breathe through these crises. We don’t have to feel helpless alone: we can grow stronger together.

     Air purifier builds occur every other Saturday through the wildfire season. Come build air purifiers with us and take one home with you, sign up here at tinyurl.com/chcpurifierbuild. 5515 We are located at 5515 Doyle St, Emeryville, CA 94608 in the parking lot across from the Doyle Street Café. Follow CHC on Instagram/Twitter at @chumanityc and contact us with any questions or ideas you have. 

 

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Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee Celebrates Local Entrepreneurs, Vows to Continue Fighting for Recovery during National Small Business Week

In addition, Congresswoman Lee is a co-sponsor of H.R. 3807, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act, which will provide an additional $60 billion to support restaurants and other food and beverage businesses.

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small business open sign photo courtesy of Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) released the following statement on September 23 celebrating East Bay entrepreneurs during National Small Business Week, and vowing to continue fighting for resources to help local businesses to recover from the COVID-19 economic crisis.

“During this year’s Small Business Week, we celebrate the local business owners, entrepreneurs, and workers who drive our economy and give the East Bay so much of its diverse, resilient, and unique character,” Lee said. “Our small businesses have struggled to survive during the pandemic, and many have closed their doors permanently. Our work to get help for small businesses through the American Rescue Plan and other measures resulted in major investment in this community and allowed many businesses to weather the storm. But the pandemic is not over yet, and we still have more work to do in this recovery.”

East Bay small businesses have received significant help from funds authorized by the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the $1.7 trillion recovery bill passed by Congressional Democrats and signed by President Biden in March. The bill included a Restaurant Revitalization Fund and Shuttered Venue Operating Grants administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

A total of 668 East Bay restaurants, other food and beverage businesses, and venues received close to $300 million through these two programs. A city-by-city breakdown showing the number of businesses helped and the amounts of money awarded is below. More information about the individual businesses that received assistance can be found here.

Lee and House Democrats are now working to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which includes a “generational” investment in American small businesses. The bill will help small businesses get through the ongoing pandemic and thrive by increasing access to capital, funding entrepreneurial development programs, supporting underserved businesses, and driving innovation.

In addition, Congresswoman Lee is a co-sponsor of H.R. 3807, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act, which will provide an additional $60 billion to support restaurants and other food and beverage businesses.

For more information about help available to small businesses, please see this comprehensive guide to SBA resources.

Recovery Funds Awarded to Small Businesses in California’s 13th Congressional District

Restaurant Revitalization Fund

Total Awardees: 590

Total Amount: $212,676,228.49

By City:

  • Oakland

Total awardees: 297

Total amount: $99,965,410.64

  • San Leandro

Total awardees: 44

Total amount: $12,909,939.13

  • Berkeley

Total awardees: 146

Total amount: $63,817,616.60

  • Alameda

Total awardees: 61

Total amount: $20,031,428.71

  • Albany

Total awardees: 12

Total amount: $2,686,934.95

  • Emeryville

Total awardees: 29

Total amount: $13,163,744.46

  • Piedmont

Total awardees: 1

Total amount: $101,154

Shuttered Venues Operating Grants (As of September 13, 2021)

Total Awardees: 78

Total Amount: $87,142,607

By City:

  • Oakland

Total awardees: 36

Total amount: $19,917,509

  • San Leandro

Total awardees: 3

Total amount: $234,970

  • Berkeley

Total awardees: 29

Total amount: $59,197,077

  • Alameda

Total awardees: 7

Total amount: $5,098,536

  • Albany

Total awardees: 1

Total amount: $311,674

  • Emeryville

Total awardees: 2

Total amount: $2,382,841

  • Piedmont: None

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Bay Area

Rosie the Riveter Trust to Celebrate History, ‘We Can Do It!’ Spirit

Tribute to storyteller and park ranger Betty Reid Soskin marking her 100th birthday

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Betty Reid Soskin/Wikimedia Commons

The Rosie the Riveter Trust is celebrating the history of the World War II home front at a September 26 gala, Making History Together. The fundraiser will highlight programs supported by the trust in collaboration with Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park: Every Kid Outdoors, Rosie’s Service Corps, and a documentary about the park’s Rosie Ambassadors, currently in production.

“We have a gem of a national park located right here in Richmond, California, where visitors can come learn about the home front and hear stories told in first person. This includes women and men who worked in the Kaiser shipyards, as well as those who spent years in the internment camps during the war,” said Sarah Pritchard, executive director of Rosie the Riveter Trust. “The history of the home front and societal changes that transpired during World War II are important lessons to preserve and share.”

The gala will also include a special tribute to Betty Reid Soskin, who turns 100 in September. Soskin helped establish the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, later joining the National Park Service and becoming the oldest ranger in the national park system at 85. 

Soskin’s programs at the park’s visitor center have captivated audiences since the center opened in May 2012. During her presentations, she shares her own experiences as a young woman of color during a time when segregation and discrimination were common, adding dimension to the stories of the home front too often left out of the history books. “What gets remembered is determined by who is in the room doing the remembering,” says Soskin in her 2019 film, “No Time to Waste.”

The gala will be held at the historic Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way South (next to the park’s visitor center on the Richmond waterfront). The Craneway, which boasts a fabulous view of San Francisco, is the former Ford Assembly Plant where some 49,000 tanks and jeeps were assembled during the home front era. 

While individual tickets to the in-person event sold out on August 1, tickets to view the live-streamed event are still available. The event begins at 5:00 p.m., followed by a tribute to Soskin, highlights of the trust’s programs, a live auction, a Zoom afterparty, and entertainment.

Major event sponsors include the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Kaiser Permanente, The Marguerite Fund, Chevron Richmond Refinery, Accenture, Bank of Labor, California State Pipe Trades Council, Microsoft Corp., The Honorable Barry Goode, Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, IBEW Local 302, IBEW Local Union 595, and Marathon Petroleum. Event sponsorships are available beginning at $1,000.

Rosie the Riveter Trust is the official partner of the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, founded in 2000 in Richmond, California. The Park chronicles the explosive growth of wartime industry, the innovations fostered by visionaries like Henry J. Kaiser, and the extraordinary history of people who were challenged as never before and came together to overcome wartime odds with the “We Can Do It!” spirit.

Event proceeds support expansion of educational programs for all ages and preservation of historical resources for the Bay Area and the nation.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the trust’s web site at www.rosietheriveter.org. For sponsorships, contact Executive Director Sarah Pritchard, at 510-507-2276, or by email at sarah@rosietheriveter.org.

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