En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Social Medicine
Subject: Health Justice & Access
Type: Media Coverage

Senator Gillibrand Supports Meaningful Health Care Reform

Today
at the Interchurch Center in Morningside
Heights
, Senator Kirsten
Gillibrand (D-NY) met with a diverse group of community activists, labor
leaders, and health care professionals to discuss priorities for health care
reform. The demands of the group were simple – quality affordable health care
we all can count on – and Senator Gillibrand’s response, which included
overwhelming support for inclusion of a public health insurance option in any
legislation on health care reform, suggested that she will be a strong advocate
for health care reform in the near future.

The
round table discussion was organized by Health Care for America Now! (HCAN), a
coalition of 850 member organizations committed to common principles for health
care reform. In attendance were representatives from 1199 SEIU, AFL-CIO, ACORN,
Citizen Action of New York, the New York Immigration Coalition, NYC for Change
and about 20 other local and national organizations. In addition to Senator
Gillibrand, NYC Councilman Daniel O’Donnell and a staff member from Congressman Ed Towns’s
office were also in attendance. As a practicing physician, and a representative
of the National Physicians Alliance, it was heartening for me to see so many
people committed to fixing our broken health care system.

The
meeting began with a welcome from Paula Mayo, Director of the Interchurch Center,
and introductory remarks by Dr. L. Toni Lewis, president of the Committee of
Interns and Residents. Dr. Lewis shared an example of the tenuous nature of
health care delivery in our communities – the hospitals in which she trained,
Mary Immaculate and St. John’s, have both
recently closed leaving patients in an already underserved area of Queens in flux. She also introduced HCAN’s policy
priorities: enacting legislation in 2009 that would guarantee the option of a
public health insurance plan and working toward equal access to quality care in
communities of color and low income areas.

The
most compelling speaker at the round table, a young woman named Kelly Cuvar,
shared an extremely personal story of her battles with both cancer and her
private health insurance company. Diagnosed with cancer at 19, she described
how every major life decision she has made since has been framed by the need to
maintain health insurance coverage. Never in full remission despite treatment,
her “prior condition” and her ongoing need for doctor visits and treatment has
made every interaction with the insurance company a source of stress.
“Everything was fight,” but at least as a 19 year old student, her father could
do the battling with the insurance company. Now 10 years later, after losing
her job last year and needing to pay for her coverage through COBRA, she is
petrified that her coverage will run out, “I am frightened and it is all that I
think about.” In arguing for an affordable public health insurance plan without
restrictions on prior conditions, she made the heart breaking plea that she is hard
working, she has bravely battled her cancer, but our convoluted system of
health care is failing her and has left her uncertain about her future care.

Other
speakers included Sherriann Cumberbatch, a small business owner from Staten
Island who cannot afford health insurance for her employees or even her own
family; Elisabeth Benjamin of the Community Service Society who questioned why
private health insurance premiums in New York have been increasing at 81% – a
rate seven times greater than increases in wages; Ralph Palladino of AFSCME DC
37 who argued that a public health insurance plan would introduce competition,
stability, efficiency, and innovation into markets where the private insurance
industry has failed to do so; and
Theo Oshiro of Make
the Road New York

who emphasized that immigrant families pay taxes and contribute to the economy
and should not be barred from public health insurance plans.

In
response, Senator Gillibrand only spoke for a few minutes, but immediately
affirmed her support for including a public health insurance plan in any health
care legislation. She also acknowledged support for a House budget resolution
that would allow the Senate to pass health care reform with a simple majority
vote avoiding filibuster. She was clearly moved by Ms. Culver’s comments and
spoke directly to the young woman telling her that the stress and strain that
her family went through is unacceptable. In a flurry of powerful statements,
Senator Gillibrand emphasized that a not for profit public plan must be
affordable (no more than 5% of a family’s income and less for those who can
afford less), easy to enroll in (suggesting a check box on tax forms for
enrollment), allowed to negotiate for discount prices with pharmaceutical
companies (similar to the VA), and should offer coverage to everyone. To her,
health care is right, not a privilege. The junior Senator from New York is clearly
going to be a champion for progressive health care reform…now what can we
expect from Mr. Schumer…