Senator Gillibrand Supports Meaningful Health Care Reform

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April 13, 2009

Today at the Interchurch Center in Morningside Heights, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) met with a diverse group of community activists, labor leaders, and health care professionals to discuss priorities for health care reform. The demands of the group were simple – quality affordable health care we all can count on – and Senator Gillibrand’s response, which included overwhelming support for inclusion of a public health insurance option in any legislation on health care reform, suggested that she will be a strong advocate for health care reform in the near future.

The round table discussion was organized by Health Care for America Now! (HCAN), a coalition of 850 member organizations committed to common principles for health care reform. In attendance were representatives from 1199 SEIU, AFL-CIO, ACORN, Citizen Action of New York, the New York Immigration Coalition, NYC for Change and about 20 other local and national organizations. In addition to Senator Gillibrand, NYC Councilman Daniel O’Donnell and a staff member from Congressman Ed Towns’s office were also in attendance. As a practicing physician, and a representative of the National Physicians Alliance, it was heartening for me to see so many people committed to fixing our broken health care system.

The meeting began with a welcome from Paula Mayo, Director of the Interchurch Center, and introductory remarks by Dr. L. Toni Lewis, president of the Committee of Interns and Residents. Dr. Lewis shared an example of the tenuous nature of health care delivery in our communities – the hospitals in which she trained, Mary Immaculate and St. John’s, have both recently closed leaving patients in an already underserved area of Queens in flux. She also introduced HCAN’s policy priorities: enacting legislation in 2009 that would guarantee the option of a public health insurance plan and working toward equal access to quality care in communities of color and low income areas.

The most compelling speaker at the round table, a young woman named Kelly Cuvar, shared an extremely personal story of her battles with both cancer and her private health insurance company. Diagnosed with cancer at 19, she described how every major life decision she has made since has been framed by the need to maintain health insurance coverage. Never in full remission despite treatment, her “prior condition” and her ongoing need for doctor visits and treatment has made every interaction with the insurance company a source of stress. “Everything was fight,” but at least as a 19 year old student, her father could do the battling with the insurance company. Now 10 years later, after losing her job last year and needing to pay for her coverage through COBRA, she is petrified that her coverage will run out, “I am frightened and it is all that I think about.” In arguing for an affordable public health insurance plan without restrictions on prior conditions, she made the heart breaking plea that she is hard working, she has bravely battled her cancer, but our convoluted system of health care is failing her and has left her uncertain about her future care.

Other speakers included Sherriann Cumberbatch, a small business owner from Staten Island who cannot afford health insurance for her employees or even her own family; Elisabeth Benjamin of the Community Service Society who questioned why private health insurance premiums in New York have been increasing at 81% – a rate seven times greater than increases in wages; Ralph Palladino of AFSCME DC 37 who argued that a public health insurance plan would introduce competition, stability, efficiency, and innovation into markets where the private insurance industry has failed to do so; and Theo Oshiro of Make the Road New York who emphasized that immigrant families pay taxes and contribute to the economy and should not be barred from public health insurance plans.

In response, Senator Gillibrand only spoke for a few minutes, but immediately affirmed her support for including a public health insurance plan in any health care legislation. She also acknowledged support for a House budget resolution that would allow the Senate to pass health care reform with a simple majority vote avoiding filibuster. She was clearly moved by Ms. Culver’s comments and spoke directly to the young woman telling her that the stress and strain that her family went through is unacceptable. In a flurry of powerful statements, Senator Gillibrand emphasized that a not for profit public plan must be affordable (no more than 5% of a family’s income and less for those who can afford less), easy to enroll in (suggesting a check box on tax forms for enrollment), allowed to negotiate for discount prices with pharmaceutical companies (similar to the VA), and should offer coverage to everyone. To her, health care is right, not a privilege. The junior Senator from New York is clearly going to be a champion for progressive health care reform…now what can we expect from Mr. Schumer…

Aaron Fox, MD

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2 Responses to “Senator Gillibrand Supports Meaningful Health Care Reform”


  1. 1WILLIAM ERNEST

    Dear Senator Gillibrand,
    Please DO NOT vote for the health care reform bill as currently written. This legislation is too important to rush through without much study.

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