More than 200 Hyde Park community members congregated on Harper Quad on May 12 for a barbeque supporting StandUp! for Progress, a grassroots organization working toward improving health care.
The event brought several major campus groups together, including the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) and Save Our Student Health Insurance (SOSHI), which joined the audience for an evening of music, food, and activism.
"Health care is the most important moral issue facing America today," said Annie Sanders, a third-year in the college and the campus coalition organizer for StandUp. "Politicians who say they care about moral values should start making sure that everyone in this country has the health care they need to raise a healthy family."
Sanders informed the crowd of some discouraging statistics concerning health coverage in the U.S. "Forty-five million people in America don't have health care, 8.4 million of which are kids," she said. "The U.S. government spends more money on health care than countries with universal health care coverage, like France, Germany, and Canada, and yet American citizens get so much less for their money."
Chris Meckstroth, a second-year graduate student in political science and the membership organizer for StandUp!, emphasized the urgency of the health care problem. "More and more Americans who used to be able to take health care for granted find themselves without it today, including increasing numbers of young people and college graduates," he said, adding that even Americans who are sufficiently covered by health insurance have begun to witness the shortcomings of the current system.
"Lawmakers talk about health care during campaigns," said Meckstroth. "They know there's a problem, but they're afraid to take action until they see that regular people are out there demonstrating for health care and showing that they will support action with votes. Lawmakers need to see that people at the grassroots [level] are organized and aren't going to let them get away with paying lip service to the issue any longer."
The U.S. Census Bureau reported in August 2004 that while the number of people with health coverage increased to 84.4 percent, an estimated 15.6 percent, or 45 million people, were without health insurance coverage in 2003, indicating a steady rise in the number of uninsured citizens over the years. The national average of uninsured citizens was reported as 16 percent of its population in a 2003 study. Illinois ranked 22nd among the 50 states of uninsured residents, with 14 percent of the population uninsured, according to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured report. The findings also name Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New England states as having the lowest rates of uninsured citizens, at around 8 to 10 percent of each state's population. President Bush's home state of Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured citizens in the United States, at 25 percent of its population, according to the report.
Dorothée Royal-Hedinger, a second-year in the College, was among the many StandUp! members in the audience. "Students especially should be worried about this issue because their colleagues in the graduate schools are losing their health insurance every day," Royal-Hedinger said. "I've heard of graduate students who go without dental care for years because they simply can't afford it."
Royal-Hedinger voiced a prominent concern among University graduate students, who have witnessed a 46 percent increase in their Student Accident and Sickness Insurance premiums since 2001. With the help of SOSHI, which also co-sponsored the barbecue, more than a thousand graduate students signed a February petition calling on the administration to address the insurance situation.
While the statistics might seem daunting, StandUp! members spoke optimistically of the future. "In the long term, we want to see Congress pass a solution," said Meckstroth. "We need to do our part by organizing ourselves, and our friends and neighbors on campus and in our communities. We want to link up with other area groups for a march to get some major media coverage and show lawmakers that people care enough about this issue to do something about it."