National health care debate hits Chicago

By Stephanie Saviola

In response to the ongoing health care debate on Capitol Hill, people from all over the United States gathered to take action in order to prevent more people from losing their health insurance.

Health Care for America Now, a national grassroots campaign that represents 46 states, held a nationwide rally that started on Feb. 16. HCAN’s goal is to ensure all Americans have affordable health care.

“What we are out here asking Congress to do is refocus on what this issue is really about,” said John Gaudette, Illinois Health Care campaign director for Citizen Action Illinois. “It is not about compromise and negotiations. It is about social justice and civil rights.”

Chicago health care activists gathered in front of the Aetna Insurance Headquarters on the corner of Wacker Drive and Madison Avenue to protests Aetna’s announcement that it will drop 650,000 clients within the next year.

“While we wait 10 more days for the president [Barack Obama’s] summit, we are going to see another 20 people die,” Gaudette said. “We are going to see another 700 people go bankrupt and lose their insurance and their homes.”

More than 100 people participated in the rally and people told stories of their health problems and how they lost their insurance.

“We had a really good number for a cold Fat Tuesday,” Gaudette said.

Members from other health care reform organizations such as MoveOn also attended the rally to demonstrate their concern.

Protestors held candles in honor of those who die from lack of health insurance.

“Part of what we are doing is telling the stories of what happens when people don’t have health care insurance,” said Melody Brynne DeGagne, Chicago central counsel coordinator for MoveOn. “We are making sure those faces and stories get out there in front of our Congress and in front of

the press.”

According to HCAN, for each day health care reform is delayed, 6,821 people will lose their health insurance and 123 people will die because they do not have the proper coverage. Of those 123 people, 18 will be Illinois residents.

“I feel like once politicians stop worrying about money and start worrying about the well-being of people first then things will get done a lot faster,” said Bryan Strausbaugh, senior fiction writing major who does not have health insurance.

The fact that large health care insurance companies have profited during the economic downturn also sparked controversy during the demonstration.

“When the economy is bad, these suckers are out there taking as much money as they can from peoples’ pockets and sticking it in their own,” Gaudette said.

Besides Aetna’s announcement of health insurance cuts, protestors were also displeased to see that the CEO of Aetna Inc., Ronald A. Williams, made the top 10 in the Forbes $100 million CEO club.

Aetna could not be reached for comment concerning Williams or the protest.

According to Gaudette, 42 states are participating in rallies nationwide.

“Tens of thousands of people are doing the exact same thing we are,” Gaudette said. “Some are out in the cold, some out in the warm [weather], but we are all demanding that greed be held accountable.”