OAKLAND, Calif. - As the health care reform debate came down to the wire this week, supporters of community health clinics rallied March 17 in California communities - Bakersfield, Stockton, Merced, Orange County and others - urging passage of legislation now before the U.S. House of Representatives.
In Oakland, demonstrators gathered for a lunch-hour rally in the heart of the Fruitvale, an area with many Mexican American and other Latino residents, many of whom depend on La Clinica de la Raza for their health care.
"By the end of this week we could have health care reform. But it's on us, because we're the ones who have to demand it," Jane Garcia, CEO of Clinica de la Raza, told the crowd. During Congressional "dillydallying" over reform in recent months, she said, 400,000 more California children have lost their health coverage, while the total number of uninsured Californians has risen from 6 million to 8 million.
Of opponents' claims that Americans don't want reform, Garcia added, "Last time I checked, Oakland, Alameda County and California were part of America. And guess what? We want health care reform and we want it now!"
Patrick Romano, California state campaign director for Health Care for America Now, pointed out that community clinics "are going to be instrumental in the transition with the health care reform, whether it's caring for the newly insured, whether it's taking care of those folks who won't get insurance right away" as reform proceeds toward full implementation in 2014. "We can't take anything for granted," he warned. "We've had numerous timelines going back to last August. Call your members of Congress, even if you're absolutely certain they will vote yes."
Under the measure before Congress, not only will 31 million uninsured people gain access to health coverage, but 15,000 new primary care providers will become available around the country, Carmela Castellano-Garcia, who heads the California Primary Care Association of community clinics, told the crowd. "It's time to put people over politics, people over health insurance companies."
In a conversation after the rally, Castellano-Garcia said billions of dollars are expected to become available under the reform, to expand community clinics throughout the country. Many of the over 1 million uninsured Californians now receiving care at community health centers will become insured, she said, with "wonderful" results both for them and for the clinics which will gain added income.
"In the last six months, the number of uninsured patients we see at La Clinica de la Raza has soared by 32 percent," said Jane Garcia. "Many people we see are newly uninsured - teachers, construction workers, a woman in her 36th week of pregnancy." Garcia said the community clinics' emphasis on wellness and prevention will also bring savings to a reformed health care system.
Also addressing the rally were Martin Waukazoo of the Native American Health Center, former state Assembly Majority Leader Wilma Chan, and Jeff Harry of Organizing for America.
Demonstrators held signs in Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, Korean and other languages as well as English. Some signs urged covering new documented immigrants under the reform.
The California rallies were organized by Health Care for America Now, Organizing for America and the California Federation of Labor.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel