Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Jenny couldn’t wait; vigil demands action on health care

By Terrie Albano
CHICAGO -- “Twenty thousand people die each year because they lack health insurance.” That was a grim figure presented by medical student Anthony Chang to a MoveOn.org-hosted health care reform vigil here on Sept. 2.

Jenny Fritts, a 24-year-old mother, pregnant with her second baby, didn’t have health care insurance. She was feeling sick and went to the ER of a for-profit hospital. They told her she had a cold and gave her Nyquil. The next day she still felt sick and went to a non-profit hospital. They immediately admitted her. She had a serious infection. The doctors couldn’t save her baby.

After spending 52 days in the ICU, Jenny Fritts died. One of 20,000 people a year.

Carrying a poster-sized photo of Fritts at the vigil with the words “She Could Not Wait,” were her in-laws Midge and Dan Hough. Dan told the story of Fritts’ tragic death and the impact on their family to the several hundred people gathered at Grant Park and holding lit candles. “She leaves a 2-year-old child and a devastated husband. And I just think that a for profit hospital” and no health insurance was as much a cause of her death as the infection, he said quietly. “We can’t have any more Jennys.”

“Never again in America,” said William McNary of Citizen Action/Illinois, a major organization in the fight for progressive health care reform, “let the record show that we gathered here in the same park where we celebrated Barack Obama’s election to make history again. To win a bill that provides quality, affordable and equitable health care for all.”

McNary then broke down the economics of the for-profit insurance industry, which make make billions of dollars a year in profit. CEOs get millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses. For example, H. Edward Hanway of Cigna received $30.16 million for his yearly salary.

“That’s $5,883 an hour!” McNary said.

McNary had been at a rally of a couple thousand people in Columbus, Ohio, with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. Brown, a progressive lawmaker, had authored the public option component of the Senate bill from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. Asked to draft it by the committee’s former chair, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, Brown told the Columbus crowd he was confident a public option would pass and it would work, according to McNary.

“We need three things to win: passion, unity and discipline. I wasn’t there at the Edmond Pettus Bridge that ushered in the Civil Rights Act, but people I talked to that were there said they have pride they were.

“Well this is one of those historic moments. When we end our status as the only nation without universal health care,” he said firing up the crowd. “The only way we are going to win is the only way things have been won before in the country. You have to be in it to win it. You have to demand it and fight for it.”

The public option won’t put insurance companies “out of business. But it will change the way they do business.”

McNary then put every politician on notice that this movement doesn’t want excuses but solutions. “We pay for full medical, dental, eye care for you. We pay. If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for us. And give it to us by the end of the year.”

McNary said he’s seen a lot of “ugly signs” held up by the opposition. The idea that “I got mine” and forget the rest. “Yes we have responsibility for ourselves,” but McNary emphasized, “we have a responsibility to each other.”

And a responsibility to get out the truth, he said. There have been a lot of myths and lies spread around in this fight. “They say truth is the first casualty of war.”

According to MoveOn, the organization hosted 350 candlelight vigils nationwide, Sept. 2, in which tens of thousands of people participated, calling for immediate action on health care reform including a strong public option.

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