ROCHESTER — Thousands of Americans die each year simply because they can’t afford to receive health care, and Americans — especially those who call themselves Christians — should be ashamed of this disgraceful fact, asserted health-care-reform advocate Donna Smith during a Sept. 5 rally outside St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center.
“It is not pro-life to leave so many of our citizens to die simply because they get sick. That is not the Jesus Christ that I believe in,” Smith said.
Smith is all too familiar with the health-care system she considers flawed. As middle-class working Americans, she and her husband, Larry, incurred large medical expenses for heart surgery and cancer treatment, and were eventually forced to declare bankruptcy and lose their home. Michael Moore’s documentary “Sicko” featured Smith’s trip to Cuba to receive health care she couldn’t receive in America — even though she was insured.
“I appeared in Michael Moore’s movie not because our story was unique, but because it was not unique,” she said.
Smith’s experiences encouraged her to found American Patients for Universal Health Care, and she urged those in attendance at the Rochester rally not to be led astray by people who refer to single-payer health-care systems as “leftist” or “communist.”
“Don’t let the scare tactics scare you off. That’s all they are is scare tactics,” she said. “Single payer is a simple concept. It takes one of the best ideas of the left, which is public financing, and one of the best ideas from the right, which is freedom to choose health care, and combines them.”
She said local residents need to tell their legislators they support the United States National Health Insurance Act, also known as the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act or HR 676, which was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2007. This bill would expand the current Medicare program to create a publicly financed and privately delivered health-care program for all U.S. residents.
Smith was not the only proponent of the proposed legislation at the rally. Four members of Rochester’s Raging Grannies, a group of women who promote peace, justice, and social and economic equality through song and humor, sang several songs in support of HR 676.
“What does our old granny need? Single-payer health plans. Private profits have to go, 676 is our demand!” was the chorus sung by Vicki Ryder, Marjorie Sexton, Margaret Merriman and Deanna Tiefenthal as several of the rally’s attendees joined in.
“We Grannies are just one of a number of Raging Granny gaggles across Canada and the United States,” Ryder said, noting that the local group is disgusted with the current health-care system.
“People are dying because our country can’t get it together and provide health care for them,” she said.
Dr. Leon Zoghlin, president of the Finger Lakes chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, said the need for such a universal health-care program is rapidly growing, and that the current system of health-maintenance organizations is not working.
“For-profit health care is a wound on this country’s soul,” Zoghlin said.
Zoghlin volunteers his professional services at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center and said his patients there include a growing number of middle-class underinsured people.
“This is now a middle-class catastrophe. I’m seeing patients from all over the county and almost every town, including Pittsford, Webster and Brighton,” Zoghlin said.
Seventy to 75 percent of St. Joseph’s patients work, and many of these people balance two or three jobs but either don’t have insurance or can’t afford the costs of copays or treatments and procedures not covered by their insurance, explained Sister of St. Joseph Christine Wagner, the neighborhood center’s executive director.
At St. Joseph’s a volunteer staff of approximately 200 professionals cares for about 800 patients a month, Sister Wagner said during a tour of the facility prior to the rally. The neighborhood center, now in its 15th year, provides integrated, comprehensive health care. Professional volunteers include neurologists, cardiologists, pulmonary specialists, dermatologists, women’s health-care specialists, pediatricians, dentists and optometrists. The center also offers mental-health, counseling and advocacy services.