Capitol Hill swamped with calls for health care public option

Union members and other health care reform advocates bombarded Capitol Hill July 28 with phone calls demanding enactment of health care reform with a strong “public option.”

The telephone calls came during a nationwide “call-in day for national health care reform” sponsored by the AFL-CIO and Health Care for America NOW. The toll-free number for the call-in is 1-877-702-0976.

This reporter telephoned the Washington D.C. office of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and was put on hold for nearly 15 minutes, a sign of the flood of messages to Cantwell a member of the Senate Finance Committee that is drafting the Senate version of health care reform. Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Kent Conrad (D-ND), in secretive backroom talks with Republican Senate leaders, have drafted a bill that strips out the “public option” and also removes the surtax on the wealthy. Baucus who received at least $3.9 million in contributions health insurance-pharma lobbyists is determined to placate their profit drive and win over Sen. Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats.

The House version of health care reform contains both the public option, the surtax on the rich, and the mandate requiring employers to provide health insurance or pay an annual fee to help sustain the public option. Cantwell’s aide said the Washington State Senator is drafting an amendment to restore the public option when it reaches the floor.

Jacki Schechner, media spokesperson for Health Care for America NOW told the World, “We have always advocated for a strong public option and we will continue to do so.” She said her coalition has not examined the Baucus bill “but we expect the full Senate to fix whatever is lacking in the bill” when it reaches the Senate floor.

Former Democratic Party National Chairman, Dr. Howard Dean appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show July 27 and is scheduled to substitute for MSNBC’s Keith Olberman two days this week to argue strongly for the public option. Dean has repeatedly told audiences, “I believe that if we don’t pass the health care plan with the public option it won’t be health care reform and we (the Democrats) will lose a tremendous number of seats in 2010.”

President Obama, speaking at a town hall meeting sponsored by the American Association of Retired Americans (AARP) July 28 pointed out that this month is the 44th anniversary of the enactment of Medicare in 1965. During the fight to push through Medicare, he said, “Everybody in favor of the status-quo was trying to scare the American people” with fear mongering against a federally-administered health care system. But today, he added, Medicare enjoys “extraordinary support. It works. And we can do the same this time. The present system is not working for too many people.”

Marc Laitin, director of the AFL-CIO’s online mobilization sent out an online appeal for union members and allies to telephone lawmakers’ offices. “Our all-out push for real health care reform continues,” he said. “We cannot afford to wait any longer….We need to fix our broken health care system with a reform bill that provides a quality public health insurance option, calls on employers to pay their fair share and doesn’t ask workers to pay more for what they already have.”