Thursday, February 25, 2010

Health Care Reformers Rally to Pressure Obama's Summit

This was originally published at Gapers Block.



Rally attendee's hold signs to signify the number of people who die in Illinois everyday that health care reform is not passed.

The evening before President Obama's Health Care summit, over 300 Chicago activists rallied in the Chicago Temple to demand passage of a health care bill that would extend coverage and hold health insurance companies accountable. The rally was organized by Health Care for America Now! and was one of several rallies across the country.

The crowd at the rally challenged a representative from Senator Dick Durbin's office. Durbin has not yet signed a letter in support of the public option that is being passed around the Senate. The crowd began to shout, "Sign the letter! Sign the Letter!"

Andy Kurz, the former CFO for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Wisconsin, told rally attendees that, "I'm not here tonight to convince you the bill is good, far from it. I am here to say that this bill is necessary." Kurz explained that while much was compromised in the bill, that abolishing prior conditions, extending dependent coverage and other reforms will reduce the cost of medical care and make it important to pass the imperfect bills in Congress.


Rev. Greenfield speaks out.

Baptist Minister Larry Greenfield asked the crowd to "fight terrorism." He pointed out that there have been 8521 American lives lost by or in response to terrorism since the Oklahoma City bombing. However there have been 294,000 died since 1994 because they did not have health coverage, a sad statistic that Greenfield equated to terrorism.


Will Wilson speaks to the crowd.

AIDS activist Will Wilson described to the crowd what living with AIDS was like and how as a result of his insurance company stopping payments on tests he needed two years after finding out he had AIDS, "I found myself unemployed due to the side effects of the [AIDS treatment] drugs, nearly 100 thousand dollars in debt and homeless."

Wilson is able to get health coverage through the Ryan White Care Act, which provides federal money and state matching funds to act as a payer of last resort for people with HIV/AIDS. It covers Wilson's medical costs and prescription drugs, but to be eligible for the act, your income must be less than ten grand a year. Abolishing prior conditions would allow Wilson to get a job with a better income, and to get regular health insurance.

Service Employees International Union - Health care Illinois President Keith Kelleher spoke about, "the health care worker who has spent decades of her life caring for others but cannot afford quality health-care for herself. Health care workers without health care, in this country, isn't that a disgrace?" To cheers from the crowd.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What's the Future of Education in Chicago?

This was originally published on Gapers Block.


The Chicago School Board voted yesterday, the 24th of February, to approve the closing of a school, the phasing out of another, and the turn-over of management at 5 others. Despite a large crowd that opposed the cuts and complained of being excluded from the process, it appears that Renaissance 2010, the city's plan to increase charter schools, and privatize schools, was victorious in the school board.

It was in this context that I attended the The Public Square's discussion on Chicago charter school's on February 23 to hear James Thindwa, the former head of Chicago Jobs With Justice and current Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff speak. The Public Square is a joint project between Chicago Public Radio and the Illinois Humanities Council's Cafe Society. The discussion was held at the Chicago Public Radio West Side Bureau.

Alice Kim, the director of the Public Square, described the goal of these Cafe Society events was to have strangers engage in discussion about issues and promote engagement with democracy.

James Thindwa kicked off the discussion. He discussed the need to have teachers, who have the day to day immersion in the school system, have their collective wisdom used to shape school policy. He criticized the idea that businessmen should be the only ones making decisions about schools. Thindwa also discussed the narrative that has been sold to convince people to support charter schools, attacking teachers union's.

Supporters of the charter schools talked about choice for the students and about poor teachers at public schools. However union negotiator Michael McNally struck a chord when he discussed how the the economy failed the students. While charter school supporters often talk about teachers failing students, McNally asked, when students come to school from homeless shelters and are not given the resources they need, what do you expect?

Thindwa reminded the crowd of Mayor Daley's veto of the 2006 big box living wage bill. Thindwa pointed out that Daley always puts the onus for children's success on parents, but they he denied a pay raise for those same parents, who are forced to get 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet, how are those parents supposed to be involved with their child's school?

I was struck by what one teacher said. When she was discussing tests that students were trained to take with a colleague, and her feeling that they don't necessarily show whether or not the student will be a success, her fellow teacher said, "we don't make contracts with the children." I found it very striking. That corporate contracts can be signed and must be adhered to, while there is no such contract with students.

An audio recording of the event will be available at

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Health Care Activists Rally Against Insurance Company "Death Panels"

This was originally published on Gapers Block.


On February 16, 2010, about 150 people attended a rally outside the Chicago offices of the death panel Aetna. While Aetna claims to be a health insurance company, the statistics tells a different and morbid tale.

The rally was organized by Health Care for America Now!, a project of Citizen Action Illinois, to publicize their report "Health Insurers Break Profit Records as 2.7 Million Americans lose coverage." The report publicized that the combined profit of the top 5 health insurance companies was up 56% to $12.2 billion in 2009. The companies were able to make such a sickening profit by literally allowing their paying customers to become sick. They dumped paying customers who became a liability, and denied coverage to those who apply. This ended up growing the number of people on public assistance and those without any coverage. The report claims that "people without health insurance coverage are more likely to delay care, to get less care, and to die when they fall ill."

The report cites one study which claims that 52 million Americans will be without coverage in 2010. That is 1/6th of the United States, with no realistic way to afford health care.


Activists Rally Outside Aetna.

Aetna CEO Ron Williams made 24.3 million and owns 194.5 million in unexcercised options. Meanwhile Aetna spent $2.8 million to lobby against health care reform.

The rally was held outside of Aetna's corporate offices on Madison and Whacker during the afternoon rush hour

John Gaudette from Citizen Action, the Illinois Health Care campaign Director said, "Every day we delay getting health care passed 6800 people lose their insurance, 2050 go bankrupt 123 die, the CEO of Aetna makes $93,000." to boos and jeers of "murderer."

Gaudette continued and expressed his view of the right-wing Teabaggers, "It's not about government being a tyrant, we need government to free us from the tyranny of the insurance companies. When they can set up death panels to tell us what kind of care we get, ration care, tell us what is and is not covered, kick us off the rolls- even though you pay for 20 years - for absolutely no reason... when we talk about about death panels, remember who is doing it, it's the person on the 12th floor up there," he said as he pointed towards Aetna's office building.

Other speakers told personal stories of going bankrupt, of being denied care for prior conditions, kicked off plans for hitting the age of eligibility for social security, and even for being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Melody Brynne DeGagne, a Illinois Central Council Coordinator choked back tears describing her experience being hit by a drunk driver and being given substandard care because of a lack of health insurance. As a result of her being pushed out the door with major injuries less than a day after being hit, she is forced to use a cane to this day. "I would love to stop hurting. I would love to stop being in pain every single day of my life. I would love to be healthy and my government is standing in the way of this."


David Borris Addresses the crowd.

David Borris, who owns a small catering company explained that, "We are allowing Aetna, United Healthcare, and Humana to perpetrate a World Trade Center disaster every 8 months." He continued, "I'm a small business owner. I work with thousands of small bi owners across 12 states with the Main Street Alliance. When we look at what the biggest impediment to creating jobs is, for us it is that we can't afford the health coverage to create the jobs."

There was frustration at the rally at the Democratic majority and Obama for not pushing health care through. Borris told me that if Barack Obama had been president in 1965, his parents would have been dead at age 60 because Medicare would have never been passed. Dan sherry complained about Obama's lack of courage, shouting, "Grow a pair!"

Retired doctor Hooshi Daragahi attended the rally, and was handing out fliers for the protest on the anniversary of the War. Daragahi explained to me that 950 billion dollars had been spent on the war, when that money could have gone to people's needs like health care. "There is one solution to the problem. Single payer health care for all. Just like any rational civilized society should have. Anything else is just a shame."

John Gaudette encouraged rally attendees to contact their congressmen and to push for the passage of the house health care reform, but to fix the Senate bill to include a public option. When I asked him whether the public option would allow health insurance companies to continue dumping the sick and elderly, whom they see as liabilities, onto the public option and continue making profit, he explained that he views the public option as a step towards regular health coverage for the uninsured. It would take the clinics and other half steps and fix them. It would also provide competition to make the corporate health providers stop acting like death panels and start providing care.


An activist speaks out against denying care to those with 'prior conditions.'

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