Health care reform and the H1N1 flu continue to dominate American headlines, and we want to keep you up-to-date on these vital issues. As we go to press, this is what you should keep in mind.

Health Care Reform

It remains unclear where the dust will settle in this epic battle. Five Congressional committees have proposed plans that now must be reconciled in order to pass legislation for the President’s signature.

One key issue for LIUNA’s health and welfare funds is taxation of health care benefits. Despite heavy opposition from LIUNA and other unions, Senator Max Baucus (D – MT) has proposed an excise tax on benefits provided by insurance companies. Inevitably, that tax would be passed through to consumers, including LIUNA’s health and welfare funds which provide insurance for Laborers. Such a tax violates the Obama Administration’s pledge not to increase taxes on working Americans. Even if the tax is limited to so-called “Cadillac” plans, the sharply rising cost of health care in years to come will rapidly push many programs, especially those in high cost-of-living states, beyond the limit. The Baucus tax is unfair to Laborers, LIUNA signatory employers and other voters who took the President at his word, backed him last November and have been doing the right thing all along.

Another key issue in health care reform is the public option. Without it, reform will be a boon for the insurance industry, requiring millions of healthy, young workers to buy insurance, but imposing no pressure to control costs. Moreover, as new regulations prohibit the industry from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, insurers are bound to raise rates to cover their added costs. The public option fights such increases by providing a choice that does not involve expensive advertising and soaring executive salaries. At least as cost effective as Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans’ care, the public option would force insurance companies to keep administrative costs in check.

H1N1 Flu

You’ve already heard a lot about H1N1 flu (sometimes called swine flu), and you’ll hear a lot more in coming weeks. Although the flu is not commonly lethal, it is highly contagious, and as such, it could become a public health nightmare. Already, it has hit broad concentrations of young people – particularly on college campuses – and it is expected to be in full swing throughout society by October’s end.

The government has rushed the creation and purchase of vaccine, but supplies will not be adequate to protect everyone. Indeed, with the virus rapidly mutating, the vaccine could ultimately prove ineffective.

The LHSFNA urges everyone to get vaccinated, if possible. Yet, it is more important to understand and practice good public hygiene. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly and, if you sneeze, do it into your sleeve so you don’t spread germs. If you become ill, take over-the-counter medicine for fever, drink plenty of fluids and, if you become dehydrated, see your doctor. Stay home from work and do not return until your fever has returned to normal for 24 hours.

Good hygiene is the key to limiting the impact of the H1N1 or any flu virus. Do your part.

Political action is the key to good health care reform. Learn about the issues at Health Care for America and go to LIUNA Builds America to support LIUNA’s action agenda.