Public Option a Civil Rights Struggle

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    Rev.-Walter-Fauntroy

    WASHINGTON (NNPA)— The Rev. Walter Fauntroy remembers well the successes of the Civil Rights Movement. And he wants to see them replicated in the final push for a robust government-sponsored option to be included in the health insurance reform legislation that is now being wrangled over in Congress.

    “When we peaceably assembled in Selma, there were people who didn’t respect the First Amendment and threatened us with billy clubs and prison and we said, ‘Do it, do it in front of the cameras.’ That raised public awareness and pricked the conscience of enough people to say to their political leaders, ‘Don’t let your name show up on my ballot if you haven’t voted for the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act,” recalled Fauntroy, a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and 1965 marches in Selma, Ala., a compatriot of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    “There is a direct parallel between what we did in the Civil Rights Movement and what we’re doing now to protect access to health care,” Fauntroy said, adding that such activism would be necessary “as long as we are subjected to the tyranny of the insurance companies, who terrorize hospitals and terrorize doctors and terrorize individual citizens for the benefit of their stockholders.”

    The civil rights heavyweight was a chief organizer, along with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), and Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), of an informal, near five-hour long hearing held on Capitol Hill on Oct. 27 to discuss the costs of a broken health system and the benefits of a government-sponsored plan.

    Money has, so far, dominated discussions about health care reform, said Jackson Lee, who added that most detractors of the public plan already had insurance.

    “This hearing aims to allow the voice of the American people who want a strong public option to be heard in the halls of Congress —voices that have been drowned out by insurance company propaganda, and disruptive tea baggers at health reform town hall meetings,” Lee said.

    Those voices — physicians, activists, church leaders patients and loved ones of those who died due to lack of health coverage — all agreed that the public option is a necessity if ethnic and racial health disparities are to be addressed, if health costs are to be managed and if lives are to be saved.

    “Like a good mother I brought pictures,” said Philadelphia resident Joan Kosloff, showing off photos of her son, Eric, a “street lawyer” who died of pneumonia after several visits to the ER.

    “I am haunted by the loss of my son, who would have been alive this day if he only had health insurance and regular physician to care for him,” she said tearfully.

    Several doctors testified about sick patients they were forced to treat for free, turn away and who died because of a lack of health insurance or the unwillingness of an insurer to cover a medical procedure or medicine.

    According to a September article in the New England Journal of Medicine, 63 percent of doctors support a public option.

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