Labor Activist Says Single Payer Health Care is Drawing Major Union Support

Kay TillowLouisville union activist Kay Tillow says a near empty collection jar she saw in a restaurant symbolizes the unfairness of America’s private health care system.

“It had a sign that said, ‘Eric and Misty need help. Eric has come down with lymphoma and can no longer work and afford health care. Can you help?’

“There were just a few dollars in the jar. No family should be allowed to go under because they can’t afford health care.”

Tillow favors House Resolution 676, which would create a national single payer health insurance system. She is speaking up for the measure in union halls across the Bluegrass State.  

Conservative Kentucky is among the reddest of the Republican Red States. But she says she is finding plenty of support for HR 676, even though the bill’s sponsors are a pair of liberal Yankee Democrats — Reps. John Conyers of Michigan and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

“Labor is out front on this,” added Tillow, who represents the All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care.

A member of the Louisville-based Nurses’ Professional Organization, Tillow says the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and six of the Bluegrass State’s eight central labor councils have endorsed HR 676. Labor councils, also known as area councils, represent regional groups of AFL-CIO afflilated unions.

“The Kentucky State AFL-CIO was the first state federation in the country to go on record in endorsing HR 676,” Bill Londrigan, the federation’s president, recently told a single payer rally in Louisville, which is Kentucky’s largest city.

He said the private health care industry spent $130 million “in the first six months of this year lobbying Congress against single payer.” Londrigan added, “This industry will stoop to nothing, they will stop at nothing to spread their propaganda and lies and try to ice us out.”

Meanwhile, Tillow said that when she began campaigning for HR 676 she wondered how rank-and-file union members would react to her message. “When I first started going to union meetings, I thought to myself, ‘This is controversial – people will oppose it. But they don’t. They’re ready for it.”

Dozens of other labor activists like Tillow are promoting HR 676 in union halls across the country. “They’re hearing the same thing I’m hearing,” she said. “Working people want single payer health care.”

So far, HR 676 has the blessing of 543 union organizations in 49 states, including 39 state AFL-CIO labor federations and 128 central and area labor councils, according to Tillow. Some state legislatures – including Kentucky’s – have approved single payer health care resolutions. “Some cities have, too,” she said. 

Tillow added, “We’re winning. But we’re up against a lot of corporate power with the big insurance companies.”

Tillow said HR 676 would expand and improve Medicare to cover everybody for all necessary health care. Deductibles and co-payments would be eliminated.

“A single payer system would save hundreds of billions of dollars annually by eliminating the high overhead and profits of the private health insurance industry and HMOs.”

Additionally, Tillow said single payer health care is hardly a radical idea. Every other industrial democracy provides some form of comprehensive, government-funded health care for all its citizens. They get more for their money, too, according to Tillow.

“We spend over $7,000 a year per capita on health care. Other countries spend half that much and do a better job. A lot of them have lower infant mortality rates and higher life expectancies.”

She said taxpayer-funded single payer health care for all is based on the same principle as police and fire protection for everybody. “When we call the police or the fire department, they don’t ask if we can pay, they just come. That’s what we pay taxes for.”

Tillow says the U.S., the richest and most powerful country on earth, has “the ability to have the best health care system in the world. We’ve got good doctors and good hospitals. But health care is a right, not a privilege.”

Tillow is glad to visit with union members or anybody else about HR 676. Her phone number is (502) 636-1551. Her email address is The All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care website is

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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a native Kentuckian, a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance journalist. He is a member of the American Federation of Teachers and the Kentucky Education Association/National Education Association. He is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, which he describes as "a strictly non-partisan chronicle of our political past from Gov. Isaac Shelby to Gov. Ruby Laffoon."
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