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Obama Platform Meetings - Nassau Citizens Discuss Health Care

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July 27, 2008- Hempstead, NY - In the banquet hall of the Union Baptist Church in Hempstead, NY, a beautiful room decorated with pastel valances and plastic party table cloth, a retired law enforcement official explained how his son developed M.S. after donating his kidney to his grandson. "I am blessed to have a good health care plan," he said, "but I am concerned about my son and grandson...my son had a poor health insurance plan because he worked for a small company and had to move to Florida, Miami, to get good health insurance. Then, he lost his job because he developed M.S.; then, he didn't have health insurance, and the problems he developed after that were horrendous."

A crowd of 22 others were listening and expecting that Barack Obama would, too. They had come as part of Barack Obama's nationwide "Listen to America" campaign to share their stories about, concerns regarding, and suggestions for improving the healthcare system. They hoped their ideas would make it into the Democratic Party's health care platform.

Valdar Coryat, the volunteer Obama campaign coordinator for Nassau County and organizer of the meeting, said that her primary purpose was to listen and facilitate discussion. Then, she would write up a report within twenty-four hours and send it to the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party. She asked someone to volunteer to take notes. When asked why she organized this forum, she said, "Imagine an offer going out to 300 million people! It's so democratic. It's amazing. I just couldn't pass it up."

Speaking to the crowd, she said, "We need to talk about what are the issues or problems that should be addressed in the platform that we don't think are addressed today..and any new ideas for policies that would help remedy existing problems."

How to provide universal health care for the country became a main theme of discussion. Should the United States reform its current system or should the country change to a single payer plan? Evelyn Bishop, a resident of Rockville Centre, who cast her first vote for FDR, said that while she would vote and work for Barack Obama, she didn't agree with his healthcare plan, "I'm on Medicare, so I don't have a health insurance problem, but millions of other Americans do. I'm sorry to say that I don't agree with Mr. Obama. He is still working through the insurance companies, and the insurance companies are out to make money. The only thing that works and is really efficient is the single payer plan. In Canada, in Britain, in France, in Germany, they spend less on health care per individual than we do and they have everybody covered, and people are healthier."

Cynthia Cooper, a community activist and enthusiastic Obama supporter, had some questions: "I am interested in your single payer plan as it would cover all persons... Would that take place immediately? Over a twenty year period? Because that's millions of people that you're talking about putting on a single payer plan and then putting insurance companies out of business, and how does that effect our economy...because I have friends who work for the insurance companies, too, and they have jobs. We have to pay serious attention to, when we say we just want to eliminate something, how it affects millions and millions of people across the board."

Dr. Karen Blitz advocated for a single payer plan, which she called "Medicare for everyone." This was the only way to go, she said: the insurance companies had to be cut out of the process, because the insurance companies' priority was to make money, not provide quality healthcare: "It's all about making money. It's all about health care corporations making money." She also noted that many physicians had gotten together and written up a Single Payer Plan that would work and were advocating it on their website, Physicians for a National Health Care Plan.

Others attendees had some concerns about the single payer plan: 1. what would happen to the insurance companies and all the people that work for them, 2. how would the plan be paid for, 3. would Congress and the public support a single payer plan, particularly if it was challenged by a massive PR campaign put together by the health care industry's lobby?

Bruce, who called himself a "grassroots democrat," warned the crowd that "Obama has to tread a very fine line..., the Healthcare lobby is the most powerful lobby in Washington...they will bury you with money."

Even Evelyn Bishop, one of the first advocates for the single payer plan, recollected the failure of Hillary Clinton's Plan during her husband's administration, "We were inundated with TV commercials...that's what killed her plan...the money behind that huge campaign."

Dr. Clinton Sewell, a doctor in Queens, NY, proposed an alternative solution which he called the "Community Physicians Network." According to his plan, physicians form a corporation based on the demographics in their community and deliver health care to all members of the community. No group would be excluded. Dr. Sewell said that patients would be part of the whole entity and that this joint network would negotiate with insurance companies. Physicians would become health advocates for their communities.

Overall, the meeting attendees supported universal health care, but were not sure how to implement it. A nurse spoke about how her community of Hempstead doesn't have a hospital. A retiree spoke about how her health insurance premiums and co-pays keep going up, but her retiree salary keeps going down. Physicians and attendees who had friends and children who were physicians spoke about how the cost of malpractice insurance is keeping young people from entering the medical profession and could affect the quality of health care in the future. Dr. Sewell said that the poor, especially those on Medicaid, receive lower quality health care.

Jean, who used to work for a managed care company, stated that more should be done to promote wellness. Many of the attendants were interested in insurance companies doing more to promote preventive care, wellness, and mental health care.

Some attendees were especially concerned about the rise of HIV/AIDS in Nassau County. One nurse stated that HIV has become the number one killer of black women in their 20s-30s in Nassau County. Another attendee had a particular interest in stem cell research.

Coryat synthesized the discussion mid-way through the meeting and the group agreed that the major themes were: 1. Universal Health Care (reform vs. single payer plan), 2. the lack of health insurance for the unemployed and underemployed, 3. Promoting Wellness, 4. HIV/AIDS, and 5. a national "Doctors without Borders" Program.

At the meeting's close, attendees enthusiastically thanked and congratulated Coryat. Some lingered for a while to continue the discussion on their own. Alison Jordan, the volunteer note-taker, handed the notes to Coryat. While many had shared serious, personal stories, and even disagreed on possible solutions, this very diverse group of citizens, ranging in age, occupation, and ethnicity had worked together to come up with ideas to send to the Obama campaign. Before leaving, Dr. Blitz said, "I hope we do something like this again."

When asked why he came, one physician, who works both on Long Island and in the Bronx, stated "This is the first time I've been involved in politics because of the way the country is going and the health care system. Despite so much money in the system, we cannot even provide good health care to so many millions of people. That's the reason I'm basically involved in this

If this meeting reflects the thousand of other similar meetings that took place across the country, Coryat's forecast that "Obama can continue to find new ways to excite and engage all of us" will prove to be true.