CUNY Profs’ Current Health Plans vs Medicare-for-All

Baruch College Professor Barbara Caress (left), Media political commentator Basil Smikle Jr.(above), University of Massachusetts Professor Robert Pollin (right)/ Carolann Lowe

   The CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies’ Murphy Institute conducted a panel discussion on Friday to discuss the benefits of Medicare-for-All, and whether the policy would negatively impact union membership.

   The event was moderated by Basil Smikle Jr., a former adjunct professor at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies who now works as a political commentator on CNN and MSNBC. Also on the panel were Robert Pollin and Barbara Caress. Caress is a practitioner at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College. She also has many years of experience as a healthcare consultant for clients such as the New York City and State Health Departments, the Community Service Society, Local 1199, and the SEIU, to name a few. Pollin is an economics professor, and co-director of the Political Economy University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is also the founder and president of a green energy company named PEAR (Pollin Energy and Retrofits).

   Pollin and Caress say that our current, unregulated healthcare system results in expenses too high for the average American to afford, and do not provide what people need. Pollin described the Medicare-for-All plan as “universal access without barriers,” diminishing worries around the cost of pharmaceuticals and whether or not people can afford prescription drugs.

   But some attendees had concerns regarding effect that Medicare-For-All would have on those who receive private healthcare through their jobs.

    One of the attendees of the event was CUNY School of Labor Urban Studies Professor James Steele, whose expertise is in political analysis and civic engagement. Steele was still left with unanswered concerns following the panel discussion.

   “I am honestly still thinking about it because I still have many questions that have not been answered such as the transition cost,” he said, “I still have concerns about employment. And they didn’t get into how they would get Congress to pass this…this will be a long battle.”

   Some Brooklyn College professors seem to be very pleased with the health care that they currently receive through CUNY, but are in favor of the enforcement of Medicare-For-All, even if it means losing their current health insurance. English professor Joseph Entin believes that Medicare-For-All is necessary to ensure that healthcare is more accessible to everyone, despite the many healthcare benefits that he receives as a CUNY employee.

   “I am very happy with the health care which I have through the city health care program and as a result, because it is subsidized by the city so heavily, we don’t pay premiums. So we pay a copay when we go to the doctor,” Entin said. “To me, it seems nonsensical and outrageous that the wealthiest country in the world can’t afford to give everyone health care.”

   “I would gladly trade in my health care for anything else if it meant that we could expand the coverage.”

   His colleague in the English department, Tanya Pollard, is supportive of Medicare-For-All as it will provide healthcare. Although she’s grateful for the healthcare she receives through CUNY, she’s concerned about those unable to acquire coverage on their own.

   “I support Medicare-for-All,” Pollard said. “I’m grateful for my health insurance through CUNY, but seeing the experiences of people without health insurance makes me appreciate that coverage for everyone has to be an urgent priority.”

   Unions have refrained from the endorsement of a single-payer plan due to the possibility that organized labor unions will no longer be a vessel to obtaining access to health coverage.

   “This really isn’t my level of expertise but I believe that our main concern should be everyone’s ability to receive healthcare in America,” said James Davis, chair of Brooklyn College’s chapter of theProfessional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY), the union representing CUNY staff and faculty.  According to him, labor unions should be less worried about the fact that they will no longer be the source through which people receive healthcare benefits, and more mindful of those who lack a basic necessity that some cannot afford.

   Smikle Jr. told the Vanguard of his hopes that Medicare-for-All can be implemented with the concerns of the people in mind. He describes the approach of Medicare-for-All as a “contentious manner of implementing tremendous consternation over transition interest.” In his mind, if people pay more attention to these needs, Medicare-For-All can finally come to fruition.

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