WASHINGTON-Hundreds of candlelight vigils across the nation Dec. 8 protested a deal on health care reform in the Senate that caves in to the insurance lobby in killing a government-funded "public option" health care plan.
The grassroots organization, MoveOn sponsored the vigils including a gathering in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill. Other vigils were held near the Washington Monument and in Baltimore, in Ridgewood in Jersey City, New Jersey and hundreds of other cities and towns across the nation. "Conservatives are pushing to bargain away the heart of real reform-the public option," MoveOn charged in a statement posted on their website. "We are organizing emergency vigils nationwide to send Congress a powerful reminder that a majority of Americans want a public option and we won't let it be bargained away."
Health Care for America NOW, a broad based coalition that has fought for the public option was gathering signatures on an online petition headlined, "Say No to Joe!" which denounces Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman's "outrageous demands" that the public option be stripped from the Senate health care reform package. Lieberman has long been regarded as a stooge of the wealthiest insurance companies headquartered in Connecticut.
The petition states, "A public health insurance option that is accountable to voters and Congress and available nationally from day one is essential to lower health care costs and to keeping insurance companies honest. Otherwise, the insurance companies win. Health reform cannot be held hostage by Joe Lieberman. We the American people, reject this so-called compromise."
The compromise includes allowing people to buy Medicare coverage at age 55 and offering private insurance plans under the auspices of the federal employee health program.
The demand of the health care reform coalition is that the Senate follows the lead of the House which did approve a strong public option in their version of health care reform. The House and Senate versions must be reconciled in a House-Senate conference. The health care coalition is stepping up the pressure that the final package sent for President Obama's signature must contain the public option.
On the other hand, that same coalition won a stunning victory Dec. 8 when the Senate voted 54-45 to reject an amendment by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska that would sharply curb women's right to an abortion. Modeled on the Stupak-Pitts amendment approved by the House Nov. 7, the amendment would have denied women the right to buy insurance covering abortions even with their own money. National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill hailed the Senate vote, thanking the women's movement for flooding Senate offices with personal visits and messages in the days before the vote to demand they kill Stupak-Pitts. "Our virtual and physical presence on Capitol Hill helped send the message that health care reform should not be negotiated on the backs of women," she said. "We thank the 54 Senators who listened to our concerns and considered women's health and well being as they voted."
The pressure was be stepped up, she said, to insure that the Senate conferees stick to their guns and kill the Stupak-Pitts amendment during the House-Senate conference.
AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka greeted efforts by Senators to strengthen "cost containment" in the health care reform bill such as an amendment by Sen. Jay Rockefeller requiring that insurance spend at least 90 percent of the insurance premium dollar on actual health care. "But these measures alone will not fix a broken health care system," Trumka said. "We need a strong public health insurance option to keep insurance companies honest..."
Photo: Crowd demonstrates outside of Lieberman's home in Novermber. Photo by Tom Connolly