Piedmont activists contest the public option in healthcare reform

by Jordan Green

Piedmont activists contest the public option in healthcare reform

Lila Jordan, a 43-year-old resident of south Greensboro, passed a bullhorn among a dozen or so demonstrators on Green Valley Road outside of Sen. Kay Hagan’s office who gave testimonies about the perils of getting sick without health insurance, escalating healthcare costs in family budgets and what they view as the moral imperative to provide healthcare to all Americans.

When it came time for Jordan to give her own story her voice choked up and tears streamed down her cheeks.

Later, she led about 30 proponents of the so-called “public option” up to Hagan’s suite, where they waited for a contingent representing the opposite side of the issue to voice their position to one of the senator’s aides.

Jordan said she attended a training session in late July, and was instructed to form a committee. She hasn’t managed to do that yet, so she organized the Oct. 15 rally as a one-person committee.

“I actually didn’t have healthcare for two and a half years,” she said. “I was unemployed. I ended up receiving four bills for one visit. I have friends who are unemployed or selfemployed who can’t afford insurance. In my neighborhood, there are so many people who don’t have insurance, not to mention college students.”

Jordan recalled that in the summer of 2008 she underwent medical testing for what she called “a female procedure” while she was unemployed and without insurance. She received a bill from the facility where the test was conducted, one from the primary-care physician, one from the lab where the sample was examined and one from the physician who read the results. Fortunately, the test came back negative, but Jordan paid the bills out of pocket. By the time it was over she had spent $700 or $800.

In the corridor outside of Hagan’s office, Jordan passed Valerie White, an Asheboro resident who is president of the NCFederation of Republican Women,whose group had already deliveredtheir message, which was equally succinctand exactly opposite: “No publicoption.”White said her contingent included30-45 people, many of whom had leftby the time the demonstratorsarrived.“We need to focus on the ones thatdon’t have insurance and leave the restof us alone,” White said.White said that as an alternativethe federal government could providevouchers to the uninsured to purchasepolicies, and that she favored liftingrestrictions on health insurance companiesso that they could operate acrossstate lines, thereby reducing costs andincreasing competition.”White said she favored a morefocused approach to covering the uninsured.“I think we need to figure out whowe’re talking about,” she said. “Whenwe talk about the uninsured, is it thosethat shouldn’t be in the country, thosethat don’t want it, or those that flat-outcan’t afford it?”Notwithstanding the arguments and those it representsthat the public option is a compromisedesigned to close the coverage gap,White said, “What you have there is alack of competition. A government-paidinsurance program is going to put everybodyelse out of business. What businessis going to pay private insurance if theycan move their employeesonto the government program?”For liberal proponentsof healthcare reformmonitoring the legislativeprocess as ahandful of bills worktheir way throughcommittee and electedrepresentatives beginthe Herculean task ofreconciling a jumble ofpolitical imperatives, the“public option” remains atthe heart of their hopes.“I think they’re gainingmomentum and getting supportfor the public option,” Jordansaid, “even from some of the Democratsthat were on the fence.”In response to the rally, aHagan staffer forwarded a statement madeby the senator two days earlier applaudinga recent healthcare reform bill passedby the Senate Finance Committee. Thebill, in Hagan’s words, “prevents insurancecompanies from turning you awaydue to a preexisting condition, removesannual and lifetime caps on coverage, andremoves co-pays for preventive services.”The bill approved by the FinanceCommittee does not include a provisionfor the public option.Hagan’s deputy press secretary, SadieWeiner, noted that Hagan voted in favorof a Community Health Insurance Optionin an earlier bill that passed the SenateHealth, Education, Labor and PensionsCommittee, on which she serves withfellow North Carolina SenatorRichard Burr. Weinerdescribed the CommunityHealth Insurance Optionas “a backstop option forpeople without accessto employer-sponsoredhealthcare.”The Rev. JeanRodenbough, presidentof the left-leaning NCCouncil of Churches, saidhealthcare reform is a majorfocus of her organization atthis time.“Personally, I am for universal,single-payer healthcare,” she saidduring the rally. “Because that isnot going to be on the books yet,the public option is a requirement and anecessity.”Hagan’s formal statement of Oct. 13added that she was committed to a finalbill “that slows down the skyrocketingcost of healthcare and prevents familiesfrom sinking into bankruptcy as a resultof one medical emergency.”Many of the demonstratorsnodded knowingly when MelvinaRay Davis, 55, of Greensboro, said shepays more for a health insurance policyto cover her retired husband now thanshe did to cover her entire family severalyears ago. She added that she has twocollege-educated daughters, neither ofwhom is insured.“My daughter rides a bicycle to workevery day,” Davis said. “I worry everyday that if she gets hit, our family will bebankrupted.” !

Opponents of the public option meet with an aide to Sen. Kay Hagan(left) at the senator’s Greensboro office on Oct. 15. (photo by JordanGreen)