StandUp, South Siders rally for healthcare

By Ethan Frenchman

StandUp for Progress, a campus political action group, led students to join hundreds of other advocates for the first hearing of Illinois’s Adequate Health Care Task Force, held on Chicago’s South Side this Wednesday, October 5.

The statewide task force was charged by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich with “addressing the very serious problem of the rising cost of health insurance” by developing a comprehensive healthcare plan.

StandUp for Progress as well as various healthcare, hospital, retiree, and citizen advocates described their experiences and voiced their support for the Governor’s steps towards a seemingly fair, comprehensive, and universal health care system.

Jim Duffett, a member of the task force and the executive director of the Illinois-based Campaign for Better Health Care, which has taken the lead in calling for universal health care, expressed the enthusiasm of many present when he said, “This is the first time in Illinois history that there is a commitment to health care for all.” Duffet swore to create a health care system that is “fair for all income levels.”

There was plenty of hope, though guarded, in the Trinity Church of Christ on 95th Street. Blagojevich and the task force have been unclear as to whether a comprehensive plan must also be universal, and any final decision on the matter is far from certain. Annie Sanders, a fourth-year in the College and a member of StandUp said, “This is for real—but whether the plan that comes out is any good depends on what the task force hears.”

StandUp presented a petition from 300 Hyde Park locals and students calling for universal healthcare coverage. Maureen Craig, a fourth year in the College, told the committee her story of what she called “the daughter of ‘The Cobbler Without Shoes,’” discussing her father’s troubles getting health insurance for his family despite being a chiropractor and then later a health insurance salesman.

Chris Meckstroth, the founder of StandUp for Progress and a University graduate student in political science, testified to the difficulties that recent college graduates face in getting insurance coverage, stating that poor health care “is an issue that goes across economic and age levels.”

StandUp members plan on continuing to pressure the task force to deliver on its mission to improve the state’s healthcare system, spreading information in Chicago’s South Side, supporting politicians in favor of universal coverage, and removing those against it.

The Adequate Health Care Task Force was created as part of the Illinois state Health Care Justice Act of 2004. The 29-member non-partisan task force, appointed by Blagojevich and four of Illinois’ legislative leaders, will be holding public hearings in each of Illinois’ congressional districts. Once finished, the task force will submit a report of recommendations to Blagojevich on December 31, 2006 in order to be fully enacted by July 1, 2007.

Nearly one out of three people in Illinois under 65 were without health insurance for at least part of 2003. Of this third, 76 percent were workers and members of working families, according to the Illinois Campaign for Better Health Care website.

Subsequent costs to the state in personal bankruptcies (more than a third of which are due to medical bills), insufficient preventive care, and unpaid bills are enormous, totaling billions of dollars annually. Individual policies for employer-provided family health insurance in Illinois cost an extra $1059 in 2005 to cover the unpaid expenses of health care for the uninsured.

Indeed, many of those who testified were hospital officials supporting comprehensive universal health coverage as economic common sense. Lawrence Haspel, the president of the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council that represents over 140 hospitals, said that because of limited coverage, those who are ill postpone treatment and are thus “more sick than before, increasing the overall costs.”

Dennis Ryan, CEO of Chicago’s Holy Cross Hospital said, “Hospitals in places with people without care face the impossible task” of avoiding bankruptcy.

Cheryl Pomroy, an ex-carpenter who was forced to find another job due to health problems, compared finding the right coverage to “playing high-stakes poker” while Mark Carner, unable to breathe without assistance, spoke of his struggles to keep his ventilator, saying, “denying ventilator use is denying ventilator users the basic right to life.”