Health care is our right

HARTFORD, Conn.— Over 5,000 protesters came to the state capital, May 5, to decry lack of health care for 400,000 people in Connecticut and to demand that the Legislature act now to provide health care for all.

Rallying in the shadow of the gilded Capitol dome, the crowd, swelled by thousands of union members, cheered as AFL-CIO President John Olsen said, “We’re going to continue to let those legislators know it’s a moral right, and we’re going to fight for health care now!”

Olsen gestured toward the office towers of Hartford-based insurance companies in the distance and quipped, “I feel we are standing in the Valley of Greed … but I’m proud and honored to represent AFL-CIO workers, all hardworking, honest people who want health care.”

Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, said, “Our governor and Legislature need to act now. Get it done!” The crowd picked up the chant, “Get it done!”

The Legislature, which has a veto-proof Democratic majority this year, adjourns on June 6. Language for the health care bill is still being written. The rally reflected strong pressure from all sectors of the state to enact single-payer health care instead of a piecemeal solution.

The crowd was a rainbow of races and nationalities, women and men from across the state who rode scores of school buses from Bridgeport, Waterbury, New Haven and many other towns. Erica Maldonado, a factory worker, riding a bus from New Haven, told journalist Melissa Bailey that she has to choose between paying health insurance or rent. She chooses rent, so she and her husband are uninsured.

Kevin Brown, his voice rising in anger, told the rally he was forced to “ante up” between $10,000 and $12,000 a year for health insurance, moving from one provider to another. “Our premiums covered less and less as they went higher and higher,” he said. “Now we have insurance with an $8,000 deductible, catastrophic coverage only, paying a staggering amount that does absolutely nothing for us. I’m incensed that at the age of 60, I can’t even think about retiring because I must work to pay for health care. I’m incensed that my government has done nothing to stem the tide of a steamroller medical insurance industry.”

In a fiery speech, the Rev. Jose Champagne, pastor of Iglesias de Dios de la Profecia in New Haven, said he spoke for thousands of uninsured, including immigrant workers. “It’s a shame that 48 million people don’t have primary care,” he said. “The time is now for universal health care. We can’t wait one more day!”

Dan Livingston, a labor lawyer whose father helped found the health and hospital union Local 1199, charged, “One hundred Americans die each day because they lack health care. The defenders of the status quo said the ‘market’ will make things better. Are they going to keep that promise?” The crowd roared, “No!”

Gene Lacobeli, a 42-year food service worker, stood in the crowd holding a “Yale Retirees” banner. “Thanks to the union, Unite Here Local 35, we were able to negotiate a good health plan,” he told the World. “We need universal care to protect the low-wage workers who don’t have it. We have to gather together to fight for benefits for all.”

John Murphy, leader of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, said, “What we really need is single-payer, universal protection that is not employer-based, ultimately, with the federal government having a role. Our budget priorities are screwed up. That’s the reason we formed Connecticut Opposed to the War.”

Jon Green, chair of the Connecticut Working Families Party, said, “In states like Connecticut and New York, there is a growing movement to push for a single-payer, ‘Medicare for All’ solution … that recognizes the role of government in providing health care as a basic right. We’re against things like ‘premium assistance’ or ‘health savings accounts,’ any expectation that the private insurance industry is going to be the solution.”

The Communist Party of Connecticut brought many members and friends from across the state. They passed out a thousand copies of the CPUSA pamphlet “Take it Back to the Grassroots,” which includes a strong call for passage of the Medicare for All Act, HR 676.

Joelle Fishman, the state party’s chair, said, “In Connecticut, as in many states, the top issue is addressing the health care crisis that has skyrocketed as right-wing Republicans in Congress have blocked a national solution while spending huge sums on the war in Iraq.”