CRANSTON, R.I. — Health care providers, union leaders and advocates from across Rhode Island got the Fourth of July spirit going early. Gathering Thursday outside the state health insurance commissioner’s office here, they “declared independence from the insurance industry” and urged the state’s congressional delegation to support a strong national health care reform bill that includes a public option.

“Right now, the insurance industry in this state is spending far too many of our health care dollars on administrative costs,” said Peter Asen, interim director of Ocean State Action.

“The increasingly unaffordable nature of private insurance, along with the outrageous double-digit rate increase requests from Blue Cross and United, highlights the need for the Office of Health Insurance Commissioner on the state level, as well as the importance of having a national public insurance option that will serve as competition to the insurance industry,” Asen said.

Budget-cutting state lawmakers have moved to eliminate the health insurance commissioner position. But a wide array of health care, consumer and business groups say slashing the post would roll back much-needed oversight and control over the health insurance industry, and would be a disaster for consumers.

The protest action here came as the U.S. Senate’s Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee released new legislative language including a public insurance plan.

Asen thanked Rhode Island’s two Democratic senators, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, for supporting legislation that will “give Americans a choice of a strong public health insurance option that will provide lower costs and keep the insurance companies honest.” He called the HELP committee’s draft bill “a good prescription for health care reform,” saying it would “make good, affordable health care available to middle-class families in Rhode Island and includes strict rules to stop insurance company abuses.”

The rally highlighted release of a new report — — that paints a clear picture of the need for affordability and a strong public insurance option, a measure supported by President Obama. Ocean State Action, joining with the Health Care for America Now campaign, produced the report. Giving consumers and businesses the choice to buy into such a public insurance option is a key component of achieving quality, affordable health care for all this year, the group says.

‘Low-wage workers like me and my coworkers are facing health insurance costs that are difficult to handle even when we are working,” said Cheryl Cornell of Pawtucket, a teacher assistant who was recently laid off from her job at the Providence Head Start.

“COBRA payments, even with the new subsidy [from the federal stimulus bill signed by Obama this spring], are unaffordable for the 12 percent of Rhode Islanders that are out of work,” she said. “We need an affordable public option that gives us a place to get insurance when we are out of work.’

Patrick Quinn, state director of the Service Employees International Union, told the protesters, “At a time when workers, local businesses, and families all have to tighten their belts, it is unacceptable to have United HealthCare and Blue Cross insisting on double-digit rate increases.”

“We need government working for us — setting and enforcing rules so that insurance companies put our health before their profits,” Quinn said. “In our vision, there is a public insurance plan to make sure that the companies need to compete, since we know regulation alone cannot keep their products affordable. And in our vision, health insurance is affordable to American businesses — big and small — and indeed to everyone in America.”

Also attending the action was state Rep. Elizabeth Dennigan (D-East Providence), a leading advocate for health care reform in the Rhode Island General Assembly and one of 40 Rhode Island state legislators to sign a letter to President Obama and Congress in support of a public insurance plan.

More information and the full report is available at .


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more. Previously she taught English as a second language and did a variety of other jobs to pay the bills. She has lived in six states, and is all about motherhood, art, nature and apple pie.