It had been a busy morning for Indiana health-care activists. Several folks associated with Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Care Plan had purchased WellPoint stock in order to gain the forum of the annual stockholders meeting, where they told the Indiana-based company leadership that for-profit health insurance companies are the biggest barrier to desperately needed reform.
Then, about 150 people carrying signs supporting H.R. 676, the bill that would expand Medicare to cover all, held a rally on the north steps of Monument Circle.
The rally closed with the group, many of whom were wearing t-shirts quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane”), noisily marching past WellPoint’s headquarters to the Indianapolis offices of Sen. Evan Bayh.
It had recently been reported that Bayh’s wife Susan received $327,000 in compensation in 2008 for her role as a director of WellPoint. “Senator Bayh says he’s agnostic about health-care reform,” rally coordinator Julia Vaughn told the crowd, quoting the senator’s recent vapid statement to Fox News. “Let’s help him get religion, folks!”
One of the Hoosiers chanting “People, Not Profits” on the sidewalk in front of Bayh’s office was 90-year-old Harold Taylor, an Episcopal priest from Bloomington. A young man approached Taylor, bent down slightly to the level of Taylor’s wheelchair, and asked him to sign a petition supporting health-care reform. As Taylor accepted the pen, one of his companions said, “Hey, wait a minute. That petition is not for single payer; it is for Obama’s plan.”
Taylor’s eyes flashed anger and he shoved the clipboard back at the young man, petition unsigned. “I am a supporter of Obama’s, but I am ashamed of that, and you should be, too,” he said.
The exchange was revealing. On the most pressing domestic issue of our time, the candidate who promised change has become a president who has not yet strayed far from the status quo.
At the rally, Bloomington emergency room physician Rob Stone had cited Obama’s historic November victory as proof of the power of grassroots activism. “But on health-care reform,” Stone told the crowd, “we can’t sit back and say, ‘President Obama is a good guy, and he will take care of it.’ We are going to have to find our voice and speak up.”
The good Dr. Stone has the right prescription. With health insurance premiums doubling in the past nine years, Americans now spend more on health care than we do on housing or food — in large part because of the cut taken by middlemen like WellPoint.
We all know dozens of people who feel the pain. Hoosier families declare bankruptcy due to medical bills their insurance won’t cover, small business owners struggle to afford health care for themselves, much less their employees, and our neighbors with disabilities suffer without needed medicine and care.
When those folks start joining the crowds at WellPoint’s and Sen. Bayh’s doorsteps, they will bring real change with them.