Universal Health Care Events held in Atlanta

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Additional reporting by Sarah Epting, Staff Writer.

(APN) ATLANTA – Elected officials, medical workers, and activists gathered at events nationwide on June 07, 2006, to demand Universal Health Care for all Americans which would build upon the success and effectiveness of the Medicare Program.

The events were held on 6/7/06, National Health Insurance Day, to coincide with US Rep. John Conyers’s (D-MI) bill, US HR 676, the United States Health Insurance Act. HR 676 would create a single-payer system of universal health care for Americans.

Coincidentally, on National Health Insurance Day, a panel formally commissioned by US Sens. Wyden and Hatch, found most Americans want universal health care, the Associated Press reports. The panel went to 50 communities and talked with 23,000 people.

Respondents to the survey actually had to insist they wanted universal health care even though it wasn’t one of the multiple choices offered in the structured survey, Rita Valenti, Spokeswoman for Georgians for a Common Sense Health Plan, said in a telephone interview.

Here in Atlanta, two events were held including a “People’s Congress” at the First Iconium Baptist Church (held the night before), and a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol.

Meanwhile, Members of the Georgia Legislature have proposed Georgia HR 1605, which would endorse the idea of US HR 676 on the national level. The 3 current co-sponsors are Rep. Stephanie Benfield (85th), Pat Gardner (57th), and Mary Oliver (83rd). The bill has not passed the Georgia House.

For years, Georgia Rep. Bob Holmes has introduced legislation which would create universal health care for Georgia. Holmes has not introduced the bill in the last session while he and health care activists are studying best ways to structure a new bill in the future, Rita Valenti said in a phone interview.

“Recent studies have shown that single-payer health insurance is fiscally responsible, quite feasible, and provides a real basis for solving many of our health care problems,” Georgia Rep. Holmes said.

State Rep. Pat Gardner has also introduced state legislation to ensure all children in Georgia are covered under the existing Peachcare system in Georgia HB 1464.

“I’ve talked to constituents of mine and they believe it’s time for this country to look at getting every single citizen covered… As we began the discussion about covering all Georgians, everybody said ‘How about you start with the children?’” Georgia Rep. Gardner said.

US Rep. Conyers’s bill has attracted a total of 71 sponsors and cosponsors in US Congress to date, including Georgia’s US Rep. John Lewis and Cynthia McKinney, both Democrats.

“Universal health care is within reach and National Health Insurance Day will go a long way toward building momentum to reach our goal of health care for all,” US Rep. Conyers said in a press release.

“We spend more than $177 million [per] day to bring democracy to Iraq, but we fail at democracy at home. The rights of Americans must be protected and [I believe] that universal access to health care ought to be a right,” US Rep. McKinney (D-GA) said in a statement prepared for Atlanta Progressive News.

“Access to health care in a democratic society is a right. It should not depend upon the size of a person’s wallet or the digits in a zip code. Good health is essential to full participation in the democratic process, and that is why the richest, most powerful nation in the world should find a way to accommodate the basic human needs of ALL OF its citizens,” US Rep. Lewis (D-GA) said in a statement prepared for Atlanta Progressive News.

Single payer health care would provide private health care through a public financing system of progressive taxation, and would be cheaper than the current system while including everybody, research has shown, Dr. Henry Kahn of Emory University, said.

30% of current private profits for the insurance industry would be eliminated under single-payer, while another 15% of the administrative costs of dealing with insurance companies would also be avoided.

Over 80 million Americans are without health care at any given point during the year, Dr. Daniel Blumenthal, Morehouse College School of Medicine, said. This is higher than the often cited 45 million, Blumenthal said, because 45 million go without for an entire year, and additional Americans cycle in and out of coverage each year.

At least another 50 million Americans are estimated to be inadequately insured. This means their plans do not cover everything they need them too. Also, many Americans cannot afford co-pays and deductibles, meaning they cannot benefit from private insurance even if they have it.

“More and more I’ve seen people with health insurance, but it doesn’t cover jack. The new thing is the insurance companies are selling skinny insurance,” Rita Valenti said in a phone interview.

“We have the most expensive health care system in the world despite the fact that all those people don’t have it,” Blumenthal said.

“Nothing tugs at a pastor’s heart more than when we see the suffering of parishioners,” Rev. Timothy McDonald of the First Iconium Baptist Church said. The First Iconium hosts monthly social justice forums on the first Tuesday of each month but will be off next month.

A doctor originally from Canada spoke at both events. “Canada’s health care system is really great. This is a good model for a good financing system,” Karen Hochman said. “It was great being a doctor in Canada. I was able to provide good care for patients without worrying about money. It never crossed our minds to think about money. We didn’t know how much it cost because we never got a sheet telling us.”

“People worry… a national health care system… would be mired in bureaucracy and red tape. I can tell you right now our system is already bureaucratic and already inefficient. And something needs to change,” Larissa Thomas, President of Health Students Taking Action Together, and third year medical student of Emory, said.

Medicare is one of the most efficient health insurance programs in the nation, with administrative costs at only 3%.

“When we are in classrooms we learn the most cutting edge technology. Then when we go out into our medical rotations we learn that we do not have the most cutting edge healthcare system. What we learn in our clinical practice is not implemented to patients. We are limited to the kind of tests we can order and the kind of treatment we can provide based on the patient’s insurance plan and based upon whether they have insurance at all. This is not the way to practice medicine,” Thomas said.

“It has been so exciting to see this as an issue,” Marguerite Rece, a Registered Nurse, said. “I tell rich people, who do you think is going to be taking care of you when you go the hospital? People who don’t have health care. We have to demand this.”

Since its inception last year, The Atlanta Progressive News has endorsed universal health care as a key element of our founding editorial principles. We will continue to follow the efforts of universal health care advocates until universal health care passes the US Congress and is available for all Americans.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.comSarah Epting is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at sarah@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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