NEW YORK — On Wednesday, New Yorkers held hostage by insurance companies shared their tragic stories — and their impassioned pleas for health care reform were echoed by health care providers.
On Wednesday, September 2, over 700 supporters joined a MoveOn.org vigil at Columbus Circle. The event was one of three hundred “We Can’t Afford To Wait” vigils held nationwide – events designed to show Congress that an urgent need for health care reform exists and that people are suffering because of it. The New York action was co-sponsored by MoveOn.org, the Center for Community Change, Democracy for America, Doctors for America, Health Care for America Now and True Majority.
MoveOn organizer David Greenson opened the event with a taped speech — a recording of recently deceased Senator Ted Kennedy arguing for universal and comprehensive health care coverage, the cause he called “The passion of my life.” In the recording Kennedy argued that the American people are entitled to the same health care that members of Congress have.
As dusk fell on Columbus Circle, vigilers lit candles and speakers offered damning evidence that the U.S. health care system has flatlined.
Some of the speakers were patients, some were celebrities — and some of the most passionate were health care providers, standing up for their patients.
Dr. Alex Blum, a pediatrician, described his anger and frustration after an encounter with a mother whose 12-year-old child had just suffered a massive stroke — triggered by lack of proper health care:
“I realized that my frustration is with a broken health care system. A broken system that every day forces Americans to choose between providing for their family and accessing care. And its unacceptable, it’s totally unacceptable. I’ll tell you when I’d seen enough of these patients I said enough is enough and I became politically active. I became a volunteer on the Obama campaign and I was registering voters on the border with Colorado, and Kansas, volunteering my time. I joined the National Physicians Alliance, a progressive organization. I’m the national field director for Doctors for America. 14,000 physicians in every state pushing for health care reform.”
“We need health care reform now, now, and not just for you all, my patients, but for me as a doctor, I need health care reform now!” Blum said.
One after another, people bankrupted and underserved by the U.S. health care system spoke out, describing the horror of being entangled in insurance red tape while attempting to survive catastrophic illness. 27-year-old Barry, a public relations specialist from Texas, told the crowd that he had been forced to undergo open heart surgery at 26. Surgery, and the medication that he needs to survive, have left him desperate for a health care solution that doesn’t send him into bankruptcy. Lisa Beth described surviving breast cancer and a staph infection only to be made destitute by her insurance company.
Interspersed with survivors’ testimonies were speakers who read brief stories sent in to MoveOn by people in need of proper, affordable health care. The stories had been compiled into lists of lives interrupted by illness and lacking health care — one paragraph per life story.
At one point a woman who had been reading such a list looked up from the printed page and surveyed the audience.
“I have to say when I was given this list, when I first came here, I said ‘Oh my god, why am I reading this? Everybody here knows this.’ But you know what? I didn’t know the specifics of this. And I’m hearing all of these incredible stories from the people that are here and it is just going to frigging reinspire me to do much more than I’ve done which is complain and send the occasional check. We’ve all go to do more than we’re doing to make this happen,” she said.