For many of the 1,100 workers employed at International Paper’s Courtland plant, the overwhelming issue is health care.
They understand they will lose their jobs. IP announced last week it will close the Courtland plant, opened in 1971. The employees are casualties of the transition to a paperless world, and they get that.
Many have skills they can utilize to sustain themselves after the plant closes. Maybe they can fix cars or build cabinets or paint siding. The work ethic that benefited IP shareholders can benefit them.
The problem for the IP workers is the same problem faced by millions of Americans. Individual health insurance is not affordable, especially in a state like Alabama monopolized by a single health insurance carrier. Accessing health care without insurance is not feasible. The only option for the uninsured is the emergency room, which does little to deal with the chronic conditions that come with age and which leads to bankruptcy for those forced to use it.
“Obamacare,” originally promoted by conservatives as a market-driven alternative to Medicare-for-all, has become a partisan hotspot. Republicans, historically champions of the laborer, feel compelled to condemn the Affordable Care Act.
Even in Alabama, one of the poorest states in the nation, elected representatives vow to do what they can to defeat a law that uses the market to provide health care to all.
In the next few months, 1,100 IP workers will be losing their jobs. Some will find new employment, complete with health insurance. Many — probably most — will piece together sustenance from a variety of odd jobs, none of which offer health insurance. But beginning in January, that’s OK. In January — if efforts by Alabama’s elected officials to defund “Obamacare” fail — they can buy individual health coverage at reasonable rates.
Gov. Robert Bentley swears he will do anything to help the IP workers. So do U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks and U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. But all four are doing everything in their power to block health-care access to the IP workers who are soon to be unemployed.
It’s time for Congress — especially poverty-stricken Alabama’s representatives — to quit treating the Affordable Care Act as a partisan tug-of-war.
The law is imperfect, but a Congress with a desire to help those without access to adequate health care can fix it. Governors who are more interested in helping their people than undermining the president can help, too.
As 1,100 IP workers soon will discover, America’s health-care system is a mess. The Affordable Care Act is an initial step toward fixing the system, and it deserves bipartisan support.
If they care more about their constituents than about partisan bickering, the elected representatives from Alabama — including Bentley, Brooks, Shelby and Sessions — will do their best to make “Obamacare” work.