Yesterday in Chicago, a message was delivered: Insurance company greed kills jobs, and we're not going to take it anymore.
Eight small business owners from around the country met at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Chicago, where the insurance industry was holding their national conference. They were there because they had sent a letter to Karen Ignagni, the insurance companies' top lobbyist, requesting a meeting.
The small business owners' letter read:
Our businesses are facing dire choices- between being able to reinvest profits into the future of our businesses and meeting the ever-growing costs of health care coverage; between denying our employees coverage for needed medical services and having to cut their jobs entirely.
Ms. Ignagni, we are not simply opportunities for profit. We are people trying to provide for our families, contribute to our local economies, and make ends meet in this recession, who believe you should look us in the eye, hear our stories, and understand what you are lobbying against.
We plan to be at the Renaissance Hotel at noon on Tuesday and hope to see you there. Please understand that we are not interested in discussing these issues with a representative or spokesperson. With our livelihoods on the line, we feel the least you could do is participate in this meeting personally.
Ignagni didn't show up yesterday.
She didn't have the courage to look these small business owners in the eye and hear their stories. People like Mecheall Williams from Louisiana, can't afford to stay afloat and give his employees insurance, and who worked to woo back one of his best employees even though he couldn't offer her health insurance, and a few weeks after she agreed to work for him again, got sick and had to go to the drive an hour to the hospital because she wasn't covered. Or Rick Poore from Nebraska, who said his skyrocketing health care costs are preventing him from purchasing another printing press for his t-shirt business, or giving his employees a raise they deserve. Or Alton Johnson from Arkansas, who may have to drop insurance coverage for his employees because his premiums keep rising.
Outside the Renaissance Hotel, five hundred people marched in solidarity with the small business owners inside - labor, community organizations, MoveOn.org local councils, doctors and medical students, and other health care supporters, all pulled together by Citizen Action of Illinois.
The small business owners, led by Wendell Potter, left the hotel and joined us outside when it was clear Ignagni wasn't going to show up. There, we heard the truth from a man who used to attend conferences like the one in Chicago today, but as a member of the insurance industry.
As Wendell has told the world over and over, the insurance companies are the biggest enemy of reform we have. They will do anything to keep health care in Wall Street's hands, and protect their obscene profits and bonuses. If that means killing jobs and their fellow Americans to do it, so be it.
Karen Ignagni couldn't even meet with the entrepreneurs she's putting out of business. But no matter. The insurance industry can't stop health reform from happening, especially the kind they fear the most - reform with a public health insurance option to give us a choice and to finally end their profiteering ways.
With reform, we'll be on our way to getting our economy and our lives back on track.
(also posted at the NOW! blog)
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