Your Opinion Matters

Your Opinion Matters

“I know you would all like to see a really strong health care reform bill go through by the end of the year so that all of you can move on to the next causes that interest you,” said Chuck Bell, program director of Consumers Union, at a meeting sponsored by the Westchester/Putnam Access to Health Care Coalition.

“I want to remind you–social change takes time,” he said at the meeting, which was held Sept. 25, 2009, in Purchase, New York.

As a member of the audience, I was taken by Bell’s words, because I have encountered a good number of people who are feeling burned out and discouraged regarding what the reform bill may actually contain by year’s end.

Bell went on to remind the audience that this is how progress occurs in a democracy.

This made me think of other long-term and hard-fought social changes that Americans have brought about. For woman’s suffrage, the Seneca Falls convention on women’s rights was held in 1848, and few of the attendees would have been alive in 1920 when the 19th Amendment passed, finally giving women the right to vote. Civil rights for African Americans–and voting rights for them as well–have definitely involved one step forward and two steps back. And though we have an African-American president, we cannot look in the mirror and say our country is now color-blind. We still have a long way to go.

In a democracy, change does not come quickly but when it happens it’s because citizens persist in voicing their desires.

A recent New York Times/CBS News poll that was released last week showed that two-thirds of the country favors the proposal for a government-run health insurance plan as an alternative to private insurance companies. That’s a stunning piece of information considering the anti-reform and anti-public option outcries at town hall meetings and the “tea parties” being sponsored by conservative groups.

In attendance at the Westchester/Putnam meeting were representatives from both U.S. Representative Nita Lowey’s and Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand’s congressional offices, and both staffers said that the anti-health reform mail was heavily outweighing any mail in favor of reform.

Those of us who are in favor of health care reform need to speak up, and if we already have, then maybe we need to encourage others to do so. Last week I attended a group meeting where the purpose was to write letters to the editors of local papers or to our representatives in Congress expressing our feelings about health reform. As a writer, I was particularly struck by the scene. Writing is something I do every day, so I never think of it as difficult, but in this room 15 concerned citizens had gathered. They wanted to talk about what they wanted to say; they wanted time to put their thoughts into written form, and several wanted to read their letters aloud to be sure the meaning was clear. I was impressed by their commitment and seriousness of intent and reminded that putting our thoughts into words on complex issues we care deeply about isn’t easy.

Among the issues that came up that night were these:

America is the only industrialized country that does not offer universal health care of some sort to its citizens.
Those who “like what they have” in the way of health insurance might need to be reminded that the system is broken and cannot last. President Obama has said that in the last 10 years, insurance premiums have gone up 130 percent. At this rate and with no change in our system, more employers will begin to restrict the insurance they offer, and fewer citizens will be able to pay the difference.
More than 25 million Americans have what Kaiser Health News calls “Swiss-cheese health insurance.” They are covered for some things but not all, and the holes in their coverage leave them under-insured.
Most people are “one catastrophic illness away from bankruptcy.” Even if you have insurance, most of us currently have lifetime caps on our policies. One major illness and you could find yourself with uncovered medical bills you cannot afford to pay. The reality is that half of all bankruptcies are caused by expenses resulting from injury or illness.
If you think health care reform is important, write or call your Congress people. If you telephone the regional office you will very likely get a live human being (wow!). All calls are tallied and opinions noted. Or write a letter or send an e-mail.

And while you’re at it, send a letter to the editor of your local paper or online news source. If writing is something you put off, team up with someone and do it together.

As American citizens, we have the obligation to speak up for what we care about. The soldiers in wars from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan have been willing to give their lives for our democracy. For the sake of our children and our children’s children, we need to pass on the legacy of this great country. In this case, it is as simple as picking up the phone or writing an e-mail to say we believe all Americans deserve access to health care.

The only way change is going to happen is by letting our opinions be known.

For more information, visit the Consumer Union website devote to issues involving health care: http://http://www.consumersunion.org/health.html

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