NYC/Long Island

1199SEIU President George Gresham was in Puerto Rico during the end of May to back an initiative for the establishment of a commission to study the feasibility of universal health care on the island nation.

Gresham attended a May 24 press conference in San Juan at which 25 organizations called for the creation of a broad commission to design the health plan. Among the leaders of the coalition is Manuel Perfecto, president of Puerto Rico’s General Union of Workers (UGT), an affiliate of 1199SEIU’s parent union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Gresham, who will serve as the International Marshal at this year’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade June 7 in New York City, will be joined by Perfecto at the parade. The theme of this year’s parade is “Salud: Celebrating Your Health.”

“It is fitting that we at 1199SEIU, a healthcare union, have been asked to serve as International Marshal and that marching with us will be brother Perfecto and other members of our sister union from Puerto Rico,” Gresham says.

At the May 24 press conference, speakers pointed out that the first step in the campaign was completed when Speaker Jaime Perelló and Rep. Lyndia Mendez Silva introduced bill 1185 May 14 in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives.

The bill seeks to study how best to reduce costs, increase preventive medicine, reduce the dominance of the insurance industry and greatly expand coverage. Estimates put the number of residents on the island without health coverage between 500,000 and 800,000.

Speakers noted that U.S. states also are exploring healthcare alternatives, including Vermont, which is moving towards a single-payer system. Rep. Perelló acknowledged that moving towards a single-payer system would meet with strong opposition from the private health insurers, but he noted that support for change is growing on the island.

The next step is for the coalition to introduce the bill in the Puerto Rican Senate. Perfecto will remain in New York following the June 7th parade for meetings to build support for the measure here.

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