Dying for health care, suburbanites sit in to "get it done!"

BiggertSitin

WILLOWBROOK, Ill. - Sixty-eight Americans die prematurely every day because they can't get access to health care coverage. This crisis prompted 35 residents of Rep. Judy Biggert's, R-Ill., district to take action and sit in at her office to demand she support health care reform.

"In the last 15 years 11,000 Illinoisans have died because we don't have health care reform," said Jonathan VanderBrug, Health Care Justice coordinator for the Campaign for Better Health Care. "Enough playing politics. Stop stalling. Get it done. This is a matter of life and death."

Altogether, over 294,000 Americans died prematurely since 1994, when the health insurance corporations blocked the last major effort for health care reform. Residents are determined to make sure reform legislation passes Congress this year.

The sit-in took place as it was announced the top five health insurers set record profits, a combined $12.2 billion for 2009, up 56% from the year before. Meanwhile the industry shed 2.7 million people from health care plans.

Biggert has been voting in lockstep with the Republicans, said VanderBrug, obstructing reform. She had refused to meet with CBHC and her constituents since August despite repeated calls, infuriating many.

"I can't believe Congressman Biggert would play politics while people are dying," said Michael Sacco. "I didn't put her in office for her to play politics. Don't let us down."

Constituents left behind a pile of empty shoes representing people who have died because they didn't have access to health care.

"One shoe is for a friend who passed away. He had cancer and didn't have health insurance. And the other shoe is for my mother. She has a pre-existing condition and I can't get health insurance for her. We should be a country that cares about each other," said one constituent.

"Eight years ago I was diagnosed with AIDS. But my insurance wouldn't cover the costs of my medical treatment causing me to go into bankruptcy," explained another constituent. "I get medical care through the Ryan White Care Act (a federal-state funded program). With the economic crisis I can lose that and there is a strong probability I will be dead in 6 months. Remember me every time you see my shoes."

Mass joblessness is stressing states like Illinois who must spend more money on Medicaid, the only lifeline for those who are jobless without health care coverage. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided $87 billion in increased funding for Medicaid to fiscally hard strapped states. Biggert voted against the Act.

However this money is due to run out Dec. 31, 2010. An extension of the Medicaid assistance is contained in health care reform (HR3200) and the Jobs for Main Street Act passed by the House of Representatives. A similar measure has yet to pass the Senate.

Biggert voted no again.

The protesters left peacefully about an hour after they arrived when the building management called the police. "Unless you were invited you will have to leave. This is our building and you are not invited," said the manager.

Before she left Biggert's office, Eva left a pair of shoes. She explained they represented those who still had a voice and would speak up for health care reform. "We're going to be back until this situation is resolved," she said.

Photo: John Bachtell/PW