Letter to the Editor – 2010 in Review, and the Tasks for Health Care Justice in 2011
By Mark Hannay
January 3, 2011
Dear Members, Supporters, and Friends:
As we look back over 2010, it was truly a "culmination year" for us here at the Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign. Since our founding almost two decades ago, we finally achieved our goal: passage of comprehensive national health care reform by Congress and signed by the President. We were proud to play a leadership role in the Health Care for America Now (HCAN) campaign here in New York, and we thank ALL of you for all your contributions, financial and otherwise, to that effort.
Let's start off where things were at this time last year:
Stage 1: The Senate vote. The Senate was just completing a fierce debate over a bill put forward by Majority Leader Harry Reid that combined the two bills voted out by the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Finance Committee. We knew there was enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate by a simple majority, but in order to get to that
vote, ALL the Democrats had to hang together to vote to end debate, since the Republicans had decided to outright oppose any bill. A few recalcitrant Democrats were trying to cut deals for special provisions to get their votes. Sen. Reid came forward with a "manager's amendment" to accommodate their demands, and the Senate voted on Christmas eve morning, and passed their own bill.
As the vote neared, partners in HCAN here in New York joined with our colleagues in New Jersey, and with our partners in the Main Street Alliance (a national network of small business owners that supported reform) to hold a press conference on the boardwalk of Newport Center in Jersey City in front of the Statue of Liberty. On a freezing cold day, we called on our area Senators to support the bill and liberate us from the grip of the private insurance industry. Immigrant small business owners spoke eloquently about how they wanted to provide coverage for their workers, but were facing unaffordable premiums for mediocre policies.
Stage 2: The conference committee process. When the new year of 2010 began, we were hopeful that the standard conference committee process between House and Senate leaders would produce a compromise bill that would take the best from each chamber's own bill. HCAN participants here in New York made another round of visits to the 13 district offices of our Congress members and Senators to shore up support. To support our allies in MoveOn and the Staten Island Democratic Association, we all jumped on the Ferry on the weekend of the MLK holiday for rally outside the Staten Island office of Rep. Michael McMahon, the one member of the city's Congressional delegation who hadn't voted for the original House bill.
Stage 3 – Breaking gridlock. Then came the special election of Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts in late January, taking the seat of our long-time champion, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Everything then froze up in Congress, and our challenge was how to unstick it and get things moving forward again. As we planned for the President's Week recess, HCAN coalitions all across the country planned "direct action" events to demonstrate public demand for action on health care reform, and hundreds of really creative events took place, including an actual "pitchfork and torch brigade" up in Connecticut.
Here in New York, led by our partners in Greater NYC for Change, who we honored for community leadership at our Gala last year, we moved forward with something we'd been talking about for quite some time: the tried-and-true quintessential New York political action: a march across the Brooklyn Bridge. On a warm winter day, hundreds of New Yorkers turned out and we spanned the entire length of the bridge, from Brooklyn Heights to City Hall. The march ended in a spirited rally in front of the lower Manhattan headquarters of Wellpoint, who by that point in time had suddenly become a lead bad-boy insurance company by announcing multiple double-digit premium rate increases and seeming not to care.
In late February, President Obama convened a bipartisan "summit" on health care, and momentum for reform was revived.
Stage 4: The Homestretch to Victory. As March arrived and Congress lurched toward its Easter-Passover recess in early April, President Obama, Senator Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (the true heroine of this fight) all doubled down to move a final bill forward. We in HCAN loaded up in buses again and took off down to Washington. This time, our target was the enemy itself: the insurance industry, in particular its corporate leaders. They were all attending a conference convened by the industry's lobby arm (America's Health Insurance Plans, or "AHIP") at a swanky DC hotel. On a wonderfully warm early spring day, thousands of HCAN activists from across the nation converged on the site. A spirited rally was held garnering lots of media attention, and HCAN leaders committed symbolic civil disobedience while trying to serve the CEOs with citizens' arrests for violating the health care rights of Americans.
A little over a week later, on Sunday March 21st, the House passed the Senate's bill, and passed a budget reconciliation "fix-it" bill and sent it over the Senate. Again, it only passed with less than a handful of votes, with NO Republican support whatsoever. It was a Sunday afternoon, and many of us were glued to C-SPAN watching a real nail-biter.
The next day, HCAN partners here in New York, led by our colleagues in Committee of Interns and Residents, Doctors Council, and the National Physicians Alliance, piled back into buses for yet another trip down to DC. This time it was for a march and rally led by doctors and other health professionals, going up Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill. It was pouring rain that day, but as we passed the Newseum, their display of the front pages of daily papers from across the country proclaimed the historic House vote in banner headlines, a truly inspiring exhibit. After a joyous, celebratory indoor rally in the Hart Senate Office Building, doctors in their white coats joined by their HCAN allies, fanned out to hold meetings with each and every Senator to urge them pass the House reconciliation "fix-it" bill.
The next day, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the White House East Room, and many of us were again transfixed to C-SPAN to witness the historic moment. Two days later, the Senate passed the House "fix-it" bill. After nearly a century of struggle, health care was finally affirmed as a right in America.
Stage 5: Making the Promise of Reform Real. Now it is our job to make that right a reality for everyone here in New York. We have our work cut out for us. Since enactment of the new law, we and our HCAN partners have begun a new campaign: to inform New Yorkers about what's in the Affordable Care Act, and combat all the misinformation and cynical outright lies about the new law. Please let us know if you'd like someone to come speak to your own group or union about it.
Through our state coalition, Health Care for All New York, we are now defining an agenda for the best possible and expansive implementation of the new law here in our state. Our goal is to do it right, and use it as a pathway to get to true universal health care for all New Yorkers over this decade. We invite all to join with us in that effort as we get started on it over the next 3 years, and there is key legislation to get that process going that must be passed in 2011.
Stage 2011: As we look forward to implementing the ACA here in New York, we recognize that the Great Recession also continues to ravage the lives of millions of everyday New Yorkers and Americans, as well as our state and city's coffers. "Deficit reduction" is the new dominant political theme in Washington and Albany. In this environment, we must be sure to defend the gains toward health care justice that we have made in New York over many years, and to protect our public insurance programs and safety net providers in particular as they struggle to cope with ever-increasing demand. In
Congress, we will have to push-back against efforts to "repeal and replace" and to defund or deregulate the Affordable Care Act, and to stop efforts to gut our nation's bedrock social insurance programs: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. In closing, the theme of 2011 year will be one of pushing-back against retrenchment while pushing forward with ACA
Your financial support for us will enable us to continue to help lead both of those efforts. Please send checks to the address below, or click on the "donate" button on our website (www.metrohealthcare.org.)
We thank you for your commitment to health care justice, invite you to join with us in the year ahead, and promise to do our best.
Director, Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign