Message from Bronx: Contact Congress on health care, now

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BRONX, N.Y. -- About 70 residents gathered here June 13 to “speak out” on the health care crisis. The event, co-sponsored by NW Bronx for Change and the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, featured health care organizer Tim Foley, from New Yorkers for Change, and heard remarks from local elected officials and testimony from members of the audience.

3834.jpg“Health care is happening now,” Foley said. “Your representatives need to hear from you. We know who else they’ll be hearing from -- the private insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry.

“People often say ‘my congressman is good on health care’ but you should call your representatives regardless, because there’s a great deal of pressure going on right now, and it’s happening very, very quickly.”

People in the audience signed postcards addressed to Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, which read, “I strongly urge you to work for the inclusion of a public plan at a minimum.”

A string quartet of young musicians from the Bronx performed for the crowd, led by their former teacher Joe Sherman, who is the Bronx coordinator of Moveon.org. In his introduction to the group, Sherman said, “Music is related to health care. Stutterers can sing without stuttering. President Obama has a big agenda and health care is a biggie and events like this can help get it done.”

Numerous elected officials attended as well. Congressman Eliot Engel stated off the bat that he is for a single-payer plan. He went on to praise President Obama’s pledge to pass comprehensive health care legislation saying, “Health care is a right of every citizen, not a privilege. For us to have 47 million Americans without any health care whatsoever, in the year 2009, is a scandal.”

Engel cited some of New York’s bleak health care statistics: 2.5 million people or 13 percent or the population have no health coverage. Health insurance premiums have more than doubled since 2006, while wages have only gone up by 2 percent.

And Engel told his own health care crisis story. His daughter was born with a minor heart problem. When she turned 22 and graduated college she was dropped from the family insurance policy. When she tried to buy her own insurance from that same company she was denied because of a “pre-existing condition.”

He said, “President Obama and I want to end this kind of nonsense.”

Gustavo Rivera, representing Sen. Gillibrand, referenced his work in the Obama campaign, thanking NW Bronx for Obama for its work electing the president and for continuing to organize around the key issues at the grassroots.

State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz greeted many of his constituents and expressed his strong support for health care reform. He also talked about a health care bill he’s co-sponsoring in the State Assembly.

City Councilmember Oliver Koppell got a round of applause when he declared, “I am 100 percent in favor of a single payer plan. It’s a disgrace that every industrial economy has single payer health care, and we don’t. I understand that we have to compromise now, but that’s what we should get, eventually.”

Moving testimony was given by lifelong Bronx resident Sasha Quinones, who said, “I had planned to tell my own story, but last week my best friend called me and said, ‘Next Thursday I’m losing my health insurance. Sasha, I’m going to go blind.’ Her medicine costs $300 a month. If she goes a month without it, she’ll go blind. Her doctor said she had to have this medicine, but she asked, ‘What am I going to do, how do I make a choice between putting food on the table, or buying the medicine?’”

Quinones, who was diagnosed with MS at age 21, added, “When I started my career, I couldn’t get health care because of my pre-existing condition. In the words of President Obama, yes we can, we have to change this now.”

Miriam Ford, a family nurse practitioner, said, “The first thing I have to ask patients is ‘what kind of insurance do you have?’ And that frames everything that I do.” Ford added, “Solving the health care crisis can’t be done in isolation, what about the money we’re spending every day in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

Another speaker, Sister Clair Regan, talked about the opposition to the public option. “They are using scare tactics saying a government plan will ration health care. But health care is already being rationed, controlled, limited. There are people who can’t even get on the line. We need to help our brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends understand that these are scare tactics. We all know someone that’s suffering now, someone who is not on the line. We need to be strong, loud and clear: we need something now, for everyone.”

Another speaker came at the issue from the other side. “I have health care because I worked for the city. I recently had a serious illness diagnosed, and I was able to get the care I needed. One of the tests I had cost $4,000, another was $3,000, and although I had to pay a part, they were covered. I didn’t have to think, ‘should I get this test, should I not get this test?’ I had to deal with the diagnosis and then worrying about what to do, but at least I had insurance.”

The event wrapped up with plans being made for delivery of the petitions and postcards to Sen. Schumer’s office and to participate in a June 25 health care demonstration in Washington.