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Organizing for health care

August 17, 2007 | Page 11

INSPIRED by Michael Moore's muckraking documentary Sicko, activists and health care advocates across the country are taking the first steps to organize the fight for health care for all.

--In Los Angeles, more than 1,000 people rallied August 11 on the steps of City Hall in support of California Senate Bill 840 (SB840), which would establish a statewide single-payer health care system.

The bill passed both houses of California's legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This year, it has been reintroduced with 43 co-authors.

"Why is SB 840 the answer?" asked state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the bill's sponsor, while addressing the rally, comprised largely of unionists, including members of the California Nurses' Association (CNA), California School Employees Association and United Teachers Los Angeles. "Well, first of all, it does away with those damned insurance companies."

Under SB 840, the poorest Californians would pay nothing, and everyone else's premiums would be calculated on the basis of their income. Employers would contribute to the state health care fund through a payroll tax. In the words of CNA President Debbie Burger, "Everybody's in! Nobody's out!"

Legendary farm workers' organizer Dolores Huerta, anticipating a second Schwarzenegger veto, called on activists to pressure the legislature to override the veto, even "if we have to go do a sit-in in their offices. All change comes from the bottom, and we're the only ones who can do it!"

Dawnelle Keyes, who appeared in Sicko to tell the story of how her daughter Mychelle died as a result of being denied medical treatment by her insurance company, also spoke at the rally. "I have a voice and a platform to make sure no other family experiences the heartbreak that my family and I felt," she said.

--In New York City, more than 150 activists, health care workers, medical students and community members packed the Byzantine chapel of St. Bart's Church in midtown Manhattan on July 17, in response to a call for action to fight for universal single-payer health care.

Sponsored by the Private Insurance Must Go Coalition, as well as Healthcare-NOW, Physicians for a National Health Program, ACT-UP, the International Socialist Organization, New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and numerous other organizations, the town hall was billed as "a direct action strategy session," and the crowd took up the challenge.

NYSNA organizer John O'Connor called out the Democrats for their "universal coverage" plans that fail to challenge, let alone eliminate, the for-profit health care industry.

The crowd broke up into eight action-oriented working groups including: "bird-dogging" national presidential candidates to remove the private health insurance industry from their national health plans; taking direct action, including sit-ins, occupations and pickets, at health insurance and pharmaceutical headquarters; and working with the antiwar movement.

--In Madison, Wis., 40 people rallied at the Wisconsin Capitol Building July 30 to tell their health care horror stories and support reform legislation known as "Healthy Wisconsin." The demonstration was organized by the newly formed From Sicko to Sanity (STS) coalition.

According to one participant, "It was like watching Sicko, only live on the steps of a government building." Signs at the protest read, "18,000 died last year, health care now!" and "$140 billion for health care--No more for war!"

Natalie Morrison explained that due to an illness, she couldn't work for a month, had to borrow to pay her medical bills, fell behind on her payments and had a lien put on her home. The only way she and her two kids could stay afloat was to file bankruptcy.

Healthy Wisconsin, which has passed in the state Senate, would provide health coverage for the 450,000 people living in the state who have no health insurance. It would provide care for people who have been denied health insurance due to pre-existing conditions and would stop health coverage from being dependent on employment status.

Employers would be required to pay 10 percent of payroll and employees would pay between 2 and 4 percent of their income. Deductibles and co-pays are small, and preventative care is free.

STS hopes to bring Michael Moore to Madison in the fall, and will continue to rally support for health care for all.

--In Chicago, a public forum July 26 titled "From Sicko to Single-Payer" brought out approximately 150 people to hear about the fight for single-payer health care.

Sponsored by a large number of groups, the panel consisted of speakers from the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC), Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and the International Socialist Organization.

The following week, nearly 20 people gathered for a follow-up organizing meeting to discuss specific actions that people in Chicago can take to fight for single-payer health care.

The group chose the name "Chicago Single-Payer Action Network" (CSPAN). Following an introduction to the health care crisis, the group discussed future organizing plans, including learning about Illinois House Bill 311, which would establish a statewide single-payer health system to provide comprehensive health coverage to all Illinoisans, and a future picket action at health care giant Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois.

Other parts of the discussion focused on how to explain the difference between single-payer and so-called "universal coverage" proposals favored by mainstream Democrats.

Randy Childs, Kim Rabuck, Helen Redmond and Hannah Wolfe contributed to this report.

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