Interfaith rally pushes public option forward in Connecticut

HARTFORD, Conn. – A Virginia court ruled against President Obama’s signature health care reform, but a large interfaith rally here on Dec. 14 pushed back, demanding implementation of a state public option that would bring residents the full benefit of national health care.

Standing before a church packed with over 500 health care advocates, and surrounded by two dozen clergy from all denominations, Democratic Governor-elect Dan Malloy pledged that his administration will “do all we can so lives are not affected adversely because of delayed health care.”

He said that his own experience with disabilities as a child and his mother’s work as a nurse shaped his vision for universal access.

The clergy presented Malloy with their holy books, related passages highlighted. Pledge cards signed by each person present detailed features they want the health care bill to include.

Looking out at the sea of lit candles held by those present, U.S. Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal asserted, “We are not going back to preexisting conditions and abuses, we are going forward with SustiNet as a model more firmly than before because of you.” He added that from a national perspective this kind of public pressure “will compel us to fight for universal health care.”

SustiNet would be a health care plan for Connecticut, originally aimed at insuring 98 percent of the population.

Connecticut may be the first state to set up a public option. The Legislature created the SustiNet Board last year over the veto of Republican Governor Jodi Rell. As mandated, that board is now preparing proposals for implementation that the legislature will act upon in its 2011 session.

Rev. Bonita Grubbs of Christian Community Action in New Haven, speaking on behalf of the Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Health Care, called for a vision plan to establish a system of health care in Connecticut. She emphasized that “who shows up will determine the details.”

According to Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, “Sustinet is thing one, and universal health care for everybody is thing two.”

In opposition to calls for budget cuts he said, “We can provide health care for everyone and save money.” Donovan pointed out that, due to the hard work of many in the room, those elected officials who voted to override Gov. Rell’s veto were re-elected in November along with a Democratic governor, for the first time in 22 years.

In his closing prayer, Rev. Rha-Sheen Brown of Right Now Ministries in New Britain said,”iI’s time to make sure every politician sees health care is a human right.” Speaking on behalf of the entire gathering he said, “we stand in unity until everybody has free health care.”

The Connecticut Center for a New Economy bus from New Haven, filled with a diverse group of state residents, was high-spirited. “The politicians were there tonight because we worked hard and got out the vote,” said organizer Shirley Lawrence. “This is just the start.”

The SustiNet Board is scheduled to vote on its recommendations next week. The legislative session opens on January 5, 2011.

Image: Crowd of 500 health care supporters packed an interfaith rally to support SustiNet – Connecticut’s public-option health plan. Photo by Tom Connolly/PW


Joelle Fishman
Joelle Fishman

Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is a Commissioner on the City of New Haven Peace Commission, serves on the executive board of the Alliance of Retired Americans in Connecticut and is an active member of many economic rights and social justice organizations. She was a candidate for Congress from 1973 to 1982, maintaining minor-party ballot status for the Communist Party in Connecticut's Third Congressional District. As chair of the CPUSA Political Action Commission, she has played an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance that defeated the ultra-right in the 2008 elections and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights and peace.