Retirees rally against Medicare reform

CLEVELAND – About 35 seniors burst in to Republican Sen. Mike DeWine’s office on Aug. 26 demanding he vote against the Medicare “reform” bill being hatched in a House-Senate conference committee. Meanwhile hundreds more demonstrated outside.

The Cleveland AFL-CIO Retiree Council, together with the Ohio Alliance of Retired Americans (ARA), organized the demonstration as part of a national campaign to save Medicare from privatization. “I’m here to make sure that we save Medicare,” said Dorothy Caruso, 84, one of the seniors who occupied DeWine’s office. “We elect people to Congress and we pay their salaries,” said Freida Franyin, 87. “We expect them to take care of us, not the profits of corporate America.”

The bills, which are being promoted under a phony cover of adding prescription drugs to Medicare, would in effect turn over the administration of Medicare to private insurance companies, ending Medicare caps on cost for health services, and do nothing to curb skyrocketing prescription drug costs.

ARA President George Kourpias has said that either version, if passed, will “end traditional fee-for-service Medicare.” If the program survives at all, he has said, it “will end up as a last resort for a small number of desperate people.”

As the demonstrators chanted and blew whistles in the senator’s office, another two hundred picketed outside. Chants of “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! We don’t want your HMOs!” and “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! DeWine’s plan has got to go!” echoed through the streets of downtown Cleveland.

The demonstrators gathered at Laborers Local 310 union hall prior to the demonstration. “If these bills become law, who suffers?” asked the retirees’ leaders. “We do!” shouted the crowd. “Who reaps the golden harvest?” the organizers asked. “Corporations who have already fleeced the American people to the tune of billions of dollars in obscene profiteering!” was the answer.

“Who’s trying to make this thievery legal, the law of the land?” the seniors were asked. “Bought and paid for public officials in the White House and Republican-controlled House and Senate!” was the answer, as shouts and blowing whistles resounded through the union hall.

“Who’s money are they stealing?” speakers asked. “Our money!” was the answer given by retired workers, most of whom paid all their lives into the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds.

Speakers George Banks, a retired steelworker, Wally Kaufman, a retired painter, and Connie Engholm, midwest director for the ARA, all spoke and told the crowd there will come “a day of reckoning,” namely, election day, November 2004.

“Seniors know how to vote!” shouted the seniors in DeWine’s office.

After two hours with no communication with the senator, who was reportedly out of town, the demonstrators, including retired unionists dressed in their union jackets, caps, and shirts, and seniors in wheelchairs, left the office with shouts of “We’ll be back!” and joined in the chants and whistle blowing going on the outside.