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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