Coalition vows to take on health care ‘nightmare’

By John Schroyer

Calling the health care system a “nightmare” and a “catastrophic problem,” an immense coalition of state and national groups announced a sweeping campaign to push for its overhaul.

A few dozen Colorado members of newly formed Health Care for America Now gathered on the west steps of the Capitol on Tuesday, July 8, to advocate “a guarantee of quality affordable health care for all,” in the words of Jane Feustel, spokeswoman for Colorado Progressive Action.

Feustel said the coalition, which represents 95 groups from across the country, will flood the offices of congressmen and senators across the country, all declaring its support for “comprehensive reform, not a Band-Aid.” She promised that the campaign will mobilize “millions of Americans” to make phone calls, write letters and do anything else they can think of to make their voices heard.

“We will demand an answer,” Feustel said. “Which side are you on? Do you stand on the side of quality affordable health care for all, or on the side of the insurance industry that’s making a killing — literally?”

Feustel and others told story after story of individuals who lost all their savings over single illnesses and were forced into poverty by astronomical health care costs and insurance companies that reject many in need as uninsurable.

The campaign will advocate the creation of a government-funded and managed health care plan, while still allowing individuals to opt out and choose private insurance, a sort of hybrid system between the current U.S. free market system and the European-style single-payer system. But at least one group in the coalition — Health Care for All Colorado — has been a longstanding proponent of moving completely to a single-payer system, and one of its proponents reiterated its argument Tuesday. (Health Care for All was behind the single-payer plan selected by the 208 Health Care Commission.)

Dr. Irene Aguilar, who served on one of the 208 Commission’s subcommittees, again pointed out that, according to financial modeling paid for by the 208 Commission, the single-payer plan was the only one among five suggested plans that would ultimately save Colorado money.

“Colorado could provide comprehensive, affordable health care to all Colorado citizens and residents and save our residents $1.4 billion annually,” Aguilar said. “The money is there. It is possible, if true reform is allowed to happen.”

She also pre-empted a common Republican counter-argument, dismissing the notion that the free market is the best answer for health care woes.

“The market has not solved this problem, and it’s not going to as long as big insurance and drug companies are profiting at our expense,” Aguilar said.

Even so, another major health care proponent, Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver, cautioned against too much state action and said the proper venue for reform is at the national level.

“We can only go so far in solving that problem here in Colorado. We need a national solution, because state-by-state initiatives will, by their very nature, create a hodgepodge of programs that leave some Americans and some Coloradans further behind than others,” said McGihon, who chairs the House Committee on Health and Human Services.

Besides, she said, the state is too broke to institute effective reforms.

Needs are particularly acute among the mentally ill and those with substance-abuse problems. Currently, she noted, such state programs are woefully inadequate, but there’s no available funding to expand them.

“We don’t have the money to do it,” she said simply.

Meanwhile, the problem has been growing steadily worse, she said. By McGihon’s calculations, the number of uninsured in Colorado, currently just under 800,000, has risen by between 20,000 and 30,000 annually for the past several years. And while she said she’s proud of a number of health care advances in recent years, it’s not enough.

“We are still around 47th in what we provide for Medicaid services. We still have around 20 percent uninsured and Lord knows how many are underinsured,” she said.

Members of the coalition include: ACORN; the American Teachers Federation; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the Colorado Education Association; Colorado for Health Care; the Colorado Progressive Coalition; the Front Range Economic Strategy Center; the National Physicians’ Alliance; New Era Colorado; Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains; ProgressNowAction; the Service Employees International Union; and Sisters of Color United for Education.