Public Comment

President Obama is still fighting for healthcare reform. Are we?

By Anne Sunderland
Wednesday March 03, 2010 - 05:05:00 PM

Last week I watched the Healthcare Summit with many people in mind. After a year of working on healthcare reform I’ve met many local residents who have been failed by our healthcare system. They include a man who watched his parents, janitors who had saved for years to buy a home, loose that home due to medical bills resulting from his mother’s diabetes. And a cancer survivor who can’t get health insurance due to her pre-existing condition. Now she forgoes regular check-ups to see if her cancer has returned. If it does, she’ll have few options. 


These stories remind us that healthcare reform is not, as Harry Reid said at the Healthcare Summit, about political parties fighting each other, but people fighting for their lives. So how would President Obama’s health reform plan help them?  


First, it would prohibit health insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing coverage. The mother and the cancer survivor mentioned above, for example, would be able to go to a health insurance exchange, where they can purchase coverage from one of a variety of competing private health plans – just as all members of Congress currently can. All plans sold on the exchange would be required to meet minimum standards to make sure consumers are protected. If someone can’t afford to purchase coverage, subsidies will be provided. By pooling together a large mix of people (healthy, sick, young, old), all of whom are paying into the system, the health insurance exchange should help lower risk, and therefore rates. Finally, the President’s plan would extend coverage to an estimated 30 million currently uninsured Americans.  


What’s the alternative? The Republican proposal presented at the Healthcare Summit would extend coverage to a mere 3 million Americans, continuing to leave 27 million uninsured out in the cold. Meanwhile, recent headlines show us what our future holds if we fail to act. This month Anthem Blue Cross proposed a 39% premium rate increase for individual policy holders. There are examples of proposed rate hikes by insurance companies of 20-40% across the country. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services health care spending rose in 2009 to $8,047 per person and is projected to nearly double by 2019. According to Harvard, 45,000 Americans die every year because they don’t have health insurance – almost 1,000 people a week.  


Most Americans – and residents of Berkeley – believe that the status quo as it relates to our healthcare system is unacceptable. Something must change. It’s not unlike how many felt after eight years of the Bush administration. That’s why in 2007 and 2008 Berkeley residents sacrificed to make that change happen. They held phone banks, walked door-to-door, traveled to other states to register voters. President Obama needed a movement to get elected and what the battle over healthcare reform makes clear is that he continues to need a movement to govern effectively. He will not be able to pass healthcare reform – something that multiple Presidents have tried to do and failed – without the same level of grassroots support and activism. 


Still, a year after starting down the road to reform many are tired and jaded. The healthcare debate – with its appearance of back room deals and talk of “death panels” and other misrepresentations – has only intensified frustrations. Some ask why we should continue to fight to change a system that seems held hostage by special interests. I believe covering 30 million uninsured Americans is still worth fighting for.  


Organizing for America (OFA) – formerly Obama for America of the 2008 presidential campaign – has continued to organize communities across the country, including Berkeley, to make the change we voted for in 2008 a reality. The first priority has been healthcare. Last year, while tea party protesters won media coverage by screaming down congressmen in town halls, OFA volunteers were making phone calls, canvassing, and organizing neighborhood action teams. In October, OFA was able to generate 340,000 phone calls to Congress in one day to support health insurance reform. Four thousand of those calls came from Berkeley and surrounding cities. Efforts like these helped to propel healthcare reform forward and culminated in the passage of bills in both the House and the Senate. We are still on the verge of passing comprehensive healthcare reform legislation for the first time in America history. 


After a long year of hard work we who believe in reform can not give up now. Luckily, we have a president who isn’t. By holding the Healthcare Summit and continuing to push his health reform plan forward, President Obama has done his part to breathe new life into the debate. Now those who support the President must do their part. The next 1-2 months will be critical. Recently, OFA volunteers from across the country pledged a total of 7.2 million hours. We know that President Obama, as he said during the State of the Union, can’t do it alone.  


For information about volunteering with OFA go to or contact Jeffrey Harry, Northern California Regional Field Director, at: