Coalition launches ‘Health Care for America Now!’


George Pokorny has been walking on eggshells since losing his job when Good Shepherd Care Center shut down this spring on St. Paul’s East Side.

Although able to find health insurance for his wife and children, he’s still waiting to enroll in the state MinnesotaCare health program. In the meantime, he worries about getting sick or injured.

“I can lose everything,” he said. “Just one accident and I’m done.”

Pokorny is hoping the Health Care for America Now! campaign, launched Tuesday in St. Paul and 51 other U.S. cities, will finally spur action to create quality, affordable health care for all. Pokorny spoke at a news conference that also included Minnesota labor, faith and community leaders.

In the months leading up to the November elections, Health Care for America Now! will spend $25 million on national television, print and online advertising and have 100 organizers in 45 states, including Minnesota. The goal, the coalition said, is “to assure that the first order of business of the next President and Congress is to pass legislation in 2009 that guarantees quality, affordable health care for all.”

Coalition members include ACORN, AFSCME, Americans United for Change, Campaign for America’s Future, MoveOn, National Education Association, SEIU and United Food & Commercial Workers. In Minnesota, TakeAction Minnesota is coordinating organizing around health care in dozens of communities.

“In 2009, we will either have a guarantee of quality, affordable health care we all can count on or we will continue to be at the mercy of the private health insurance industry that is charging us more, giving us less and putting company profits before our health,” said Dan McGrath, president of TakeAction Minnesota.

The coalition has not endorsed any specific legislation to solve the health care crisis, he said. Instead, the focus will be on pressuring elected officials to find a solution and “we’re open to a variety of policies to reach that goal,” McGrath said.

While coalition members aren’t behind any particular legislative solution, they are united in identifying the problems with health care as it is currently operated in the United States.

“Whether you’re insured or you’re uninsured, our health care system is broken – and cost is the problem,” said Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, the state’s largest public employee union.

The average annual premium for family coverage has skyrocketed to more than $12,000, Seide said. Members of AFSCME, like workers everywhere in the U.S., “have been forced to sacrifice our wage increases to keep our health care – and it’s getting worse.”

Mary Cathryn Ricker, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, said the lack of affordable health care is a major issue in public school classrooms. Students whose illnesses go untreated because they lack health care coverage miss many days of school. And higher costs affect parents, students and teachers.

No parents, she said, should have to choose between paying for medical immunizations for their child and buying school supplies.

Health care workers often can’t afford health care themselves – and they are frustrated when they can’t provide care to people who are uninsured or under-insured, said Michelle Miller, a respiratory therapist and a union steward for SEIU Health Care Minnesota.

“I’m tired of watching America’s health care system lag behind every other system in the world, and so are my 1 million union brothers and sisters,” Miller said.

Ultimately, the decision to address the health care crisis is a moral one, said the Rev. Grant Stevensen, president of ISAIAH, a faith organization that along with TakeAction is leading the Health Care for America Now! campaign in Minnesota.

“This issue is fundamentally a human issue,” Stevenson said. “Countries that have fewer resources than we do have found a way to cover every single person with health care.”

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