Real debate urged on health care

Los Angeles-- The White House convened the last of five forums on healthcare here April 6 with demands growing both inside and outside for enactment by Congress of a federally-run, universal health care system free of profits.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Washington State Gov. Christine Gregoire jointly hosted today’s forum. Schwarzenegger ignited a furore last September when he vetoed a plan approved by the legislature to create a single-payer health care program that would have protected every man, woman and child in California.

Hundreds of union members, nurses, doctors, school employees, patients, and healthcare activists rallied outside the Los Angeles Forum, April 6 to “strongly urge a real debate over single-payer/universal healthcare and any proposed bailouts of private health insurance corporations,” said a statement from the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Healthcare . Geri Jenkins, a registered nurse and Co-President of the California Nurses Association, an endorser of the rally, said, “Nurses and patients demand a place at the table for guaranteed healthcare systems on the single-payer model because we know that only this reform will nurse our healthcare system back to health.”

She warned that “forcing people to buy private insurance products or taxing their healthcare benefits, the kind of ideas offered by Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain last year, would amount to a massive bailout of the health insurance corporations which we can’t afford and they don’t deserve.”

Rob Feckner, President of the California State Employees Association, another participant in the rally praised President Obama for recognizing “that now is the time for bold solutions to our most serious problems including healthcare. We are urging him to allow single-payer/universal to be a part of the debate because we believe it is the best way we can provide comprehensive care to the American people at a reasonable cost.”

Rev. Rick Schlosser, Executive Director of the California Council of Churches, another endorser of the rally said, “A single-payer system is the best and most equitable means to provide all people with the healthcare they need while exercising good stewardship of our resources.”

The White House recently released a report on a series of earlier Health Care Community Discussions attended by more than 9,000 people in all fifty states. The report (viewable at www.healthreform.gov) said virtual unanimity was expressed by participants that the current system is “broken” and must be drastically changed. The web site points out that 86.7 million people were without health care protection at some time during 2007 and 2008. The report states that there was also widespread agreement that the federal government must play a role although differences were expressed on the “size of that role.” “The first step towards comprehensive health reform is for Congress to pass a fiscally responsible budget that includes a health care reserve fund,” the report states. Congress did indeed pass a Budget Resolution that includes Obama’s $634 billion health care reserve fund over the next 10 years. That resolution is non-binding and the House and Senate must vote again to approve the appropriation of funds for Obama’s health care reserve fund

At one of the sessions in Livermore, California, the report continues, one health care group “was almost strident in its belief that we should simply adopt a single-payer system similar to what is enjoyed in Canada and much of Europe and take the burden off employers and corporations altogether.”

The New York Times reported Mar. 31 that the chairpersons of five House and Senate Committees are meeting twice a week and have hammered out agreement on a number of important issues on healthcare. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, ailing with cancer, is a leader of the effort. The Times reports that lobbyists for insurance companies and the medical-pharmaceutical complex have been welcomed as “stakeholders.”

In Senate confirmation hearings to become Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has testified that “health reform would be my mission” if she is confirmed. She said she endorses Obama’s proposal for a “public option side-by-side with private insurers” to provide health care.