Leader in US Healthcare Reform Applauds Push To Bend Cost Curve

Dennis Rivera, the "Point Man" in President's Obama's health reform, urges Canadians to Create Political Will; Build Bridges at The Economic Club

TORONTO, May 18 /CNW/ - "We cannot rely on our elected officials alone to do what's in the people's best interests. We need to build the movement to make it happen," a leader in the fight for healthcare reform in the United States told a group of Canadian business people in Toronto today.

Dennis Rivera, chair of the million-member healthcare division of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) provided an insider's look at the landmark US healthcare reform legislation to the Economic Club of Canada in an address entitled "Bridging Gaps, Building Coalitions - Lessons from Inside the Obama Healthcare Reform".

Rivera took the audience back to the night of November 4, 2008 describing Obama's election victory as "the moment we had been waiting for - the moment we needed. But," he added. "The moment had not happened overnight. Pieces were put into place years before."

A key lesson learned in the decades-old dream of US healthcare reform was the failure of then President Clinton's healthcare initiative. "We all knew," Rivera recalled. "The 1993 playbook of "go-it-alone" didn't work then, and it would not work in 2008. The key difference between the campaign in '93 and now was organizing key stakeholders and ordinary Americans who wanted change."

Beginning in 2003, when SEIU launched the Americans for Healthcare campaign, the union's more than 2-million members were front and centre, pressing elected leaders to set aside partisan differences and work for real solutions to the healthcare crisis.

Central to this effort was the determination to form broad-based, sometimes unlikely alliances, as SEIU enlisted the support of hospitals and healthcare providers, Fortune 500 companies, organized labour groups, faith-based groups, and leading consumer advocates. As Mr. Rivera put it: "We came together, recognizing each had a responsibility and a stake in improving our healthcare system. We came together to drive the conversation on bending the cost curve."

Rivera said there were lessons to be learned from the US healthcare reform that can be applied to what's happening with health reform in Canada today. He cited the need for all stakeholders to begin an open and honest dialogue with one shared goal: lowering overall costs and improving quality of care. "Change is never easy. Everyone has to work together to find a way to forge a new path," Rivera offered.

Sharleen Stewart, the head of SEIU Canada, urged business leaders and policymakers to apply Rivera's advice to our own sky-high drug costs.

On behalf of 100,000 SEIU members in Canada, Stewart called on provinces to cooperate and create a national drug purchasing program to get a better deal for Canadians.

In acknowledging the lengthy campaign in the US for reform, a combination of grass roots and national advocacy, Rivera offered simple but powerful advice: "To stay focused, to stay connected, to bridge the gap and build a movement. We knew there would be differences but our focus was always on the end goal."

Quick Facts:

* SEIU is the fastest growing union in Canada.

* SEIU Healthcare was an integral player in securing healthcare reform in the US by building coalitions with frontline healthcare workers, business (pharmaceutical companies, health insurers) and health associations (American Medical Association and American Hospital Association) while mobilizing support for the reform at the grassroots level. SEIU is starting to play a similar role in Canada.

* SEIU is an active policy voice at Queen's Park, in Ottawa and in Washington, where it sits on the US President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility.

About SEIU

The Service Employee International Union (SEIU) represents more than 2 million public and private sector members in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. SEIU's members work primarily in healthcare and property services. SEIU Healthcare, SEIU's health arm, is committed to working to ensure quality, accessible healthcare for every patient.


For further information: For further information: Media contact: Pat Chastang, Bus 1-800-337-3798, Cell (416) 709-0501, Email chastangp@seiu.ca

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