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Union fights health horrors

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

America's largest organized labor union is setting the stage for a campaign to reform the country's health care system.

The AFL-CIO's Working America, an affiliate of the union, this week set up the Web site: "Health Care Hustle."

The site is a public forum for medical horror stories from the country's health care system. "We're getting hustled by powerful interests who don't want to pay their fair share for real reform," said Working America Director Karen Nussbaum.

The Web site already has 550 health care horror tales posted. The stories assess blame for health care hardships, whether it's special-interest organizations such as the pharmaceutical lobby and insurance companies or the Bush administration.

At the end of the year, Working America will tally the "evildoers" in each story and create a media campaign targeted at that entity.

"We're going to take the power of the people combined with the institutional power of the AFL-CIO and teach the evildoers a lesson. We think they will feel the pressure," said Ms. Nussbaum.

The AFL-CIO is not part of a recent health care collaboration between the Service Employees International Union and corporate giants such as Wal-Mart. Ms. Nussbaum said that plan takes the wrong path to universal health care by shifting too many medical expenses to workers. Instead, she said a universal health care system must be built on the government-run Medicare program.

Using Web-based weapons is a new tactic for trade unions that, not long ago, were able to wield influence through numbers rather than technology. But federal statistics released this month show national union membership for 2006 at 12 percent of wage and salary workers, down from 12.5 percent in 2005 and 20.1 percent in 1983.

Straight A's

The Washington area's health insurance laws for colon cancer screenings earned a top grade this year from the American Cancer Society.

The District, Maryland and Virginia have enacted law requiring insurance companies to cover colon cancer screenings, unlike in most states. Virginia was the first state to mandate the screenings, which require an insurance company to cover one of five colon cancer screening tests.

A group of organizations led by the American Cancer Society gave Maryland, Virginia and the District an "A" grade for their laws requiring coverage of colonoscopies. The "A" grade is in response to the mandate as well as provisions in the laws that require future advances in screening technologies to be used. States that received an "F" have no legislation requiring coverage.

In the United States, colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 52,000 people will die from colorectal cancer this year. In addition, 154,000 new cases will be diagnosed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if everyone 50 and older were screened regularly.

From 1999 to 2001, 11 states passed laws requiring insurers to cover the full range of colon cancer screening tests, bringing the total number of states plus the District that have such laws to 21. But along with the unpleasantness of the procedure, the price tag for a colonoscopy, anywhere from $650 to $1,000, has prevented its widespread use.

Health care runs Fridays. Contact Gregory Lopes at 202/636-4892 or glopes@washingtontimes.com.