By Michael Towsen
HOUSTON – About 50 activists met on 7/18/09 at the Harris County AFL-CIO headquarters in Houston to support health care reform. Many participants joined in a phone bank and made a commitment to make phone calls over the next week to support pending progressive legislation. People attending were an ethnically diverse group of men and women from many occupational backgrounds. The effort was called by Organizing for America which is the successor to Obama for America.
Participants were treated to rousing speeches from local elected officials who support health care reform, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D – Houston, Carol Alvarado, Texas State Senator, U.S. Rep. Al Green, D – Houston, and Jolanda Jones, Houston City Councilperson.
Congressperson Sheila Jackson-Lee said that we have been waiting 60 years for basic medical coverage for all Americans, and that since the beginning of Medicare in 1965, life expectancy for elderly people has expanded exponentially. She said that the Health Care Choice Act would cut waste, fraud and abuse and that although single-payer health care was the ideal, that the present bill would reduce health care costs for average Americans, for families, businesses and for government. For every $1.00 spent on health care, the government expects to get back $1.75 in savings. There will be a public option, which will lower the cost of private care through the insurance companies charge in order to remain competitive and that care will be sure to be regulated in the sense that people will not call an office and fail to speak to a human being, in other words, the human aspect of services is being provided for.
Congressman Al Green praised organized labor and pointed out that labor is responsible for many of the benefits that many working people enjoy today, including the 40 hour work week, pension plans, minimum wages, vacation, sick leave, and medical leave. He noted that organized labor has supported all of working people and that working people need to support the Employee Free Choice Act so that workers can organize more freely without interference from employers.
Congressperson Green reminded us that 47 million Americans are without health care. He stated that the U.S. has the most expensive “sickness care system” in the world. The U.S. spends 50% more than any other industrialized nation in the world on health care, including 100 billion dollars per annum on emergency healthcare for the uninsured. In total, the U.S. spends $2.5 trillion on healthcare per annum, which is the equivalent of $79,000 per second for every man, woman and child according to the Congressperson. In Texas, 6 million are uninsured to include 1.4 million children. 62% of bankruptcies are health care related.
He praised President Barack Obama who has made health care one of the main legislative priorities for his administration. He called for healthcare for those who dwell in the suites of life as well as those who dwell in the streets of life. He wants coverage for the “least, lost and last.” He noted that we need to provide health care coverage for all children, including the undocumented. He said it makes no sense to not treat children with communicable diseases and expose them to the rest of the population.
Jolanda Jones, progressive Houston City Councilperson, spoke in favor of health care reform as well. She called for “health care for all workers.” She said a public option will make small businesses more competitive. She summed it up by saying “elected officials listen to two things – people with money and people who are organized” and then challenged the audience by declaring, “You know what we have to do.”