Rally at Grady Brings Attention to Need for Single-Payer Health Care

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(APN) ATLANTA – About two-dozen activists rallied in front of Grady Memorial Hospital last Wednesday to bring attention to the need for healthcare reform that includes the implementation of a single payer system.

 Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, made Atlanta the first stop on his six city, five-day tour across the nation to promote HR 676, legislation that would create a single payer system.

 “It’s a very simple proposition legislatively: in healthcare – everybody in, nobody out,” Conyers said. “How can you have national security if 47 million people don’t have a dime’s worth of insurance and 30 million more are underinsured and won’t find out until they go to the hospital?”

 During his visit to Atlanta, Conyers met with healthcare workers, patients, legislators, and other public officials before taking a tour of Grady.

 “We stand in front of a hospital that has been short changed by the state government and the federal government,” Conyers said. “This hospital is emblematic of all the things that other hospitals need across the country.”

 Dr. Punam Sachdep, an ER doctor at Grady, said she sees “a population day in and day out has to deal with medical problems they cannot even begin to afford.”

 “The effects of not having healthcare [are] not just a Grady problem,” she said. “It’s an Atlanta problem, a Georgia problem, a national problem.”

 Bob Holmes, a former lawmaker who chaired the Atlanta-Fulton County delegation of the Georgia General Assembly, said, “Healthcare is a basic human right that everyone should have.”

 A long-time single payer champion, Holmes noted, “the state has in fact created problems for health facilities like Grady. Instead of providing funds for it, they’ve actually cut funds in recent years,” including changes in the indigent care trust fund formula.

 State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) argued having so many uninsured citizens hurts everyone.

 “Georgia’s budget is devastated by the fact we have so many uninsured,” she said. “All of us pay the cost. When that person cannot [get treatment]…we all pay the bill. That person’s life is often damaged beyond repair.”

 Doris Benit, a senior activist, told the story of how she lost healthcare before being diagnosed with heart ailments. Subsequent bills for treatment, surgery, and medication forced her into homelessness.

 Walter Roberts, an uninsured Grady patient, said he came to the hospital one day suicidal and in the midst of a psychotic episode. Bureaucratic red tape and the lack of insurance made it difficult to get the help he needed.

 “They are closing the clinics in a lot of our neighborhoods,” State Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield said of Grady’s cost-saving plans. “Children in my neighborhoods aren’t getting vaccines and regular checkups because of a lack of healthcare. We don’t have enough insurance coverage for children to get vaccines.”

 During the 2009 session of the General Assembly, Orrock and Benfield authored SR 187 and HR 120, respectively. Those resolutions urged Congress to pass HR 676 but neither came to a hearing.

 “Nobody in this country should go without healthcare and we believe that single payer is the way to go,” Charlie Flemming, president of the North Georgia Labor Council, said.

 He said hundreds of labor councils across the United States have endorsed HR 676.

 “In order to turn around America, it’s got to start with healthcare,” Flemming said. “The AFL and the workers of America need it. Let’s get this done. Now is our time to make change in America. It started with President Obama. Now it’s time to change the biggest need that all workers have in this country and that’s affordable healthcare.”

 “We’re putting 676, universal healthcare, into debate,” Conyers promised. “Single payer is not off the table. You can take my word for it.”

 Michael Darner, legislative counsel to Conyers, told APN HR 676, which currently has 77 cosponsors, could go to the floor in June and receive a vote before the August recess.

 “[The Democratic leadership] sound[s] like they want to have a vote on whatever the Senate comprehensive bill is before the August recess also so they can work out the differences in conference committee and get something to the president this year,” Darner said.

 He anticipates the House and Senate versions of their respective healthcare bills “will be radically different.”

 “The thought right now is the House bill will be more progressive because we do have three progressive caucus chairs, all of whom were at one point cosponsors of 676,” Darner said. “I would anticipate that there would be a robust public option very similar to 676 and whatever the House passes.”

 Darner said he worries the Senate version could be “a watered down public option,” which could cause alliances to fracture. “[Sen.] Max Baucus told the insurance companies that the public option was just there as a way to scare them and he didn’t actually think we were going to enact it,” Darner said.

 “The Progressive caucus, the Hispanic caucus, the Black caucus, and the Asian-Pacific caucus all signed a letter saying if the plan does not include what they determine to be a robust public option, they won’t vote for it,” he continued.

 “We’ve gotten rolled so many times on things we shouldn’t have gotten rolled on and hopefully that won’t happen again.”

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