CARA and NUHW: Fighting together for health justice

NewsMay 26, 2022

One issue that binds NUHW with its closest allies is our conviction that healthcare is a human right.

So last June, on the day that California officially lifted COVID-19 restrictions, NUHW members flocked to the State Capital to rally for Medicare for All, a single payer healthcare system that would guarantee all Californians with equal access to health care.

Many unions and healthcare advocacy organizations were present to urge state officials to take action amid clear evidence that the lack of available health care had resulted in thousands of preventable COVID-related deaths. One of the most vocal and visible groups at the rally was the California Alliance of Retired Americans (CARA), whose members are committed to protecting Medicare from privatization and expanding it so that everyone in the United States can access affordable health care.

“We have no choice but to change the way we do business,” CARA Executive Director Jodi Reid said. “Single payer has been proven time and time again that it is the only affordable and sustainable method to cover everyone,”

Founded in 2003, CARA is a statewide nonprofit organization that unites retired labor union members and community groups to advocate for social and economic justice, civil rights, tenant rights, as well as issues around Social Security and Medicare.

In each other’s corner

The group provides a vehicle where “retired union members can continue their union justice work” along with community organizations such as the Gray Panthers and the Women’s League.

“We were really the first and still remain one of the few that is truly a coalition of labor and community groups,” Reid said.

Similar to NUHW, CARA also has a member-driven structure.

“NUHW puts a lot of value in engaging members, and I think that’s our model,” Reid added. “The issues we work on every year are issues that are voted on by our members. We believe that our strength is our members and if they’re invested in the things we’re doing, they’re going to show up.”

Working with NUHW is an extension of that.

“NUHW looks to us as a collaborator and the same it’s true on our side,” she said.

This symbiotic relationship was evident last year as CARA supported NUHW’s landmark mental health access bill, SB 221, which requires health insurers to offer follow-up mental health and substance use treatment appointments within 10 business days, unless the treating mental health clinician determines that a longer wait would not be detrimental.

Single-Payer Healthcare System

Both organizations have been partners in the fight to create a Medicare for All, single-payer healthcare system in California. CARA and NUHW are part of the Healthy California Now, the state’s largest single-payer advocacy coalition.

“Whenever there are events, CARA is probably the group that brings the most volunteer staff resources aside from NUHW,” Reid said.

The rally held last year in Sacramento was one of those events. CARA’s advocacy work isn’t just geared toward accomplishing Medicare for All, its for preserving Medicare as a public benefit that is affordable and available to all seniors.

“Medicare is not what it was first initially intended to be,” Reid lamented. Medicare covered everything up to 80 percent and the consumer paid the rest 20 percent.”

But over the years, as the health systems changed, different products were developed to provide supplemental coverage to Medicare beneficiaries, with seniors now paying more out of pocket.

“Medicare has become a victim of the profit motives of the insurance and hospital industry,” Reid said. “Each product covers something and not others, but dental, vision is not covered by anyone.”

A single-payer healthcare system would benefit CARA members and the rest of California residents.

“A Medicare for All system that includes people on Medicare is essential to save the Medicare system and expand it to include everybody,” she said. “Because right now we’re paying more for services that are essential, especially as you become older.”