Capitol rally says: Get on board for health care

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HARTFORD, Conn. - A cross section of Connecticut residents jammed into the Hartford train station Wednesday, April 27, to demand that the governor and state legislature "get on board" for SustiNet, the state health care program with a public option.  Medical professionals, small business owners, union members, clergy and community groups from every part of the state were among the 1,000 participants. They marched from the station to the State Capitol blowing train whistles and chanting, "What do we want? Health care! When do we want it? Now!"

"We are here tonight to boldly raise our voices. We want to let the governor and the legislative leaders of our state know that we want them to keep SustiNet moving forward," said Juan A. Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, which initiated the effort in 2009.

In reply to media pundits who claim it is not  possible to implement the plan this year, Figueroa asked the crowd, "Is SustiNet dead?" as roars of "No" filled the hall. 

While Democratic Gov. Danell Malloy emphasized support for SustiNet in his election campaign, once in office he suggested that the process be slowed down. In every one of 17 town hall meetings held by Malloy around Connecticut to discuss the state budget, supporters of SustiNet came wearing their signature red t-shirts for visibility, and telling their health care stories from the floor.

"What you did made a difference," Figueroa told the rally. "There is now a compromise underway, and we are at the table."

Speaker of the House Chris Donovan was cheered when he announced, "We have in place a framework that will provide the next steps for SustiNet to move us in the direction of expanding access, improving care and achieving cost savings."

"By controlling costs, we help families and can encourage small businesses to create jobs," Donovan said.  "We're going to continue to work with the supporters of health care improvements and SustiNet here in Connecticut to make reform stronger and stronger. We need to do what's in the best interests of all of Connecticut's residents."

After many conferences, rallies and hearings, SustiNet passed the state legislature in 2009, but was vetoed by Republican Gov. Jodi Rell. However, the bill became law when the legislature overrode the veto that summer. A board was put into place to develop a proposal for implementation to be presented to the legislature in 2011.

A video featuring photographs of disappointed voters, who supported Malloy for governor because he supported SustiNet, captured the message of the night, urging the governor to reclaim his promise to deliver on health care reform by clearing the way for the implementation of SustiNet's public option.

After walking across the street and through Bushnell Park to the State Capitol, participants marched around the Capitol to the sounds of drumming, and then joined hands and formed a ring around the large building. Postcards signed that night were placed into a decorated box to be delivered to the legislators and the governor in the morning.

"Our state is at an important crossroads in the health care debate," said Figueroa. SustiNet provides our governor and legislative leadership with a window of opportunity for Connecticut to show the way to making a sensible nonprofit, public health insurance option available and investing health care dollars more wisely. And there is still time to get it done," he said.

"What I liked best was when we held hands and circled the Capitol," said Delphine Clyburn, who traveled to the rally on a bus from New Haven organized by Connecticut Center for a New Economy. "The unity that represents will enable us to win."

Photo: Supporters of SustiNet, Connecticut's public-option health plan, marched to the state capitol in Hartford. Tom Connolly/PW 

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