'Dr. Dean' stumps for health care

By Jason Kosena

On Wednesday, Howard Dean brought the same intensity and passion-filled rhetoric that made him a popular candidate in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary to a group of 300 Coloradans gathered at a church on Denver’s Capitol Hill.

This time, the former physician, Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman was rallying for support of government-subsidized health care for all Americans.

People listen intently as Howard Dean speaks on Wednesday night.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Speaking before a crowd that cheered and applauded almost everything he said during an hourlong town hall forum at the First Unitarian Church in Denver, Dean called for a major revamping of the nation’s health care system, saying that business as usual is hurting ordinary Americans.

“We can’t keep jobs in America if we don’t have a universal health care system in America, and now is the time for real reform,” Dean said adding that a single-payer system like the one President Barack Obama is proposing is worthy of attention. “Republicans talk about this like it is some kind of communist, socialist plot, (but we have) socialized health care, and it’s called Medicare.”

Dean, who made the stop as part of a national “Stand with Dr. Dean” campaign, touted Obama’s approach to health care, saying it offers Americans the option either to keep their current private coverage or buy into a nationalized program that would be available to people of all ages and incomes.

“This isn’t a ‘poor person’s program,’” Dean said, adding that the GOP is responsible for promoting the public perception that it is because it’s easier to shift the political winds against a program that’s perceived as being socialist.

“What the president has said is, ‘If you like what you have, you can keep it,’” Dean said.

Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, attends the forum.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

“But if what you have doesn’t work for you, or you want to try something different, or if you look at single-payer in America for people over 65, and that looks appealing, that you be allowed to sign up for that.”

Dean said one advantage to Obama’s plan is that, unlike current private coverage which can drop patients if their costs become too high or if they suffer from pre-existing conditions, a truly nationalized health care system would cover all people no matter their condition, age or cost to the system. It would overhaul the system to guarantee coverage for the 47 million uninsured people in America. And, similar to public schools, a national system would allow people to opt out and use whatever insurer they choose.

“The point here is, it is not up to the right wing of the Republican Party. It’s not up to the health insurance companies. It’s not up to Barack Obama to tell you what you should get with your health insurance coverage. It’s up to you as individuals,” Dean said to roaring applause.

Not everyone is in favor of a socialized health care plan for all Americans. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have expressed reservations about Obama’s plan, which is projected to cost more than $1 trillion in 10 years.

That overwhelming cost and the inability of the plan’s supporters to explain how the country will pay for it, has drawn serious concern as the legislation moves through Congress. The House is expected to take a vote on an edited version of the plan this summer.

Participants raise their hands during a question and answer session with Howard Dean on Wednesday night following his remarks on the health care industry.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

But for some in attendance Wednesday night, the need for a new approach to health care in America outweighs any concerns about cost.

Hollis Berendt, a small business owner from Greeley, said she and her husband were forced to liquidate the equity in their home and take out a second mortgage last year after their 27-year-old daughter was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst that required immediate surgery.

Berendt said her daughter, who was living in New York City at the time, was employed by a “large entertainment company” that did not offer health insurance to employees until they had worked there for more than a year. Her daughter’s surgery took place 10 months into her employment.

“I just couldn’t believe there were no options for her,” Berendt told The Colorado Statesman before Dean took the stage. “She was employed with a good company, but that didn’t matter. She is lucky that my husband and I were able to use the equity in our home to pay for her health care, but there are many in America that don’t have that option. Health care should be a right, not a privilege.”