Medical Device Daily National Editor

The Democratic and Republican national conventions to crown U.S. presidential candidates have become largely media events. And a major healthcare coalition is using a successful media product – one of the best-selling documentaries of all time – to launch a lobbying effort at this year's Democratic gathering to push the approval of single-pay, universal healthcare coverage for all Americans.

Sicko, Michael Moore's 2007 documentary providing a diagnosis of U.S. healthcare – and finding it rather sickly – was given a rerun viewing this past weekend in Denver as a way of launching a new effort to push for universal healthcare at this week's National Democratic Convention.

The film was aired Saturday and is being followed this week by lobbying efforts in support of HR 676, a bill developed by Rep. John Conyers (a Democrat, representing the 14th district of Michigan, Moore's home state), which would put in place single-payer, universal healthcare coverage.

The lobbying will be done at the convention by a broad coalition of union organizations, formed by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (AFL-CIO; CNA/NNOC) and the Progressive Democrats of America (Grand Rapids, Michigan).

The effort to push the bill will be entirely peaceful, with a variety of events throughout convention week following the airing of Sicko. (By contrast, unruly protestors may find themselves in overnight incarceration in what has been billed by some activist groups as a Guantanamo Bay, or "Gitmo"-type warehouse newly equipped by the city with makeshift jail cells.)

Terming HR 676 a bill that will provide "Medicare for all," CNA/NNOC issued a statement saying the legislation needs to be approved, "In the face of a healthcare crisis that is forcing our nation into recession, leading 79 million Americans to have trouble paying their medical bills, and causing the premature and unnecessary deaths of 101,000 Americans every year ... "

Neither of the leading presidential candidates supports a universal, single-pay system, but Chuck Idelson, a spokesperson for CNA, said the lobbying effort is far from being an exercise in futility.

"Two-thirds of the American public support this concept," he told Medical Device Daily. "There's widespread public support."

With a Democratic win, he said, "This is great opportunity for this reform."

Besides citing public support for universal coverage, Idelson said there are a large number of "endorsers" of such a system in the current congress, thus offering "a very realistic opportunity for this reform."

And he predicted that that with the election of Obama, there would be "very quick action on healthcare in 2009. There is a clear indication that he's going to sign a real comprehensive healthcare reform package."

By contrast, he indicated that any attempt to push for a universal, single-pay system at the upcoming Republican convention would be fairly useless.

"If McCain wins, things will get worse" in terms of healthcare coverage for America's uninsured and under-insured," he said.

The coalition of organizations said that HRS 676 provides "a single-payer model that is succeeding in nearly every other industrialized democracy," and is endorsed by 239 union organizations in 40 states.

Besides noting the universal quality of the coverage, the organizations cite particular advantages for union workers, such as:

The maintenance of health benefits for workers who strike or suffer on-the-job injuries or long-term illness.

Health insurance no longer tied to employment, so that "union negotiations can focus on improving wages, pensions, and working conditions."

Securing health benefit levels for union trust funds.

As additional rationale for HR 676, the union coalition claims that "Most strikes are caused by employer attempts to reduce or eliminate healthcare benefits," and that [f]ewer than 60% of employers, and barely half of small employers, now provide health insurance. The number is rapidly falling."

Conyers last month made an appearance in Houston, where he called for passage of the legislation and proposed town hall meetings in every congressional district in the country for the public to "testify" about their experiences in our fractured healthcare system.

"Under my plan," Conyers said, "all medically necessary services are covered for all from cradle to grave, with no restrictions whatsoever on choice of doctor or hospital. Additionally, by utilizing a singular source of financing and reimbursement, we can streamline the entire process, cutting down overhead costs substantially and providing for real cost containment in the system."

Another rerun-type of media effort in the healthcare reform category is the return of what are known as "Harry and Louise" ads. While the ads were used to sink healthcare reform proposed by the Clintons in 1994, the ads this time around feature the couple chatting about the lack of coverage and the need for the next president to put healthcare "at the top of his agenda."

The original Harry and Louise ads were paid for by the now-defunct Health Insurance Association of America, a forerunner of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP; Washington).

AHIP President Karen Ignagni, in a statement from the organization, recently praised the ad effort, which is sponsored by American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Hospital Association, the Catholic Health Association and Families USA and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Ignagni said, "We fully support this campaign because the seeds of workable reform are planted in efforts like this: diverse stakeholders from across the spectrum working together to find common ground."

AHIP has proposed its own set of reforms which, not surprisingly, would involve private insurance payers, not a universal government approach.

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