CourierPostOnline

Health Care Advocates Unite

CourierPostOnline – Wednesday, July 9, 2008

By TOM BALDWIN
Gannett State Bureau

A broad alliance of advocates here and across the nation Tuesday raised a renewed cry for universal health care, vowing to spend $40 million to lobby the next president, Congress and state legislatures to that end.

At almost the same time, Gov. Jon S. Corzine was signing into law a step toward their intended goal.

"There should be a choice," said Ev Liebman of New Jersey Citizen Action, a liberal lobbying organization, advocating that people be able to buy their own insurance, seek it through willing employers or rely on a government program.

"In 2009, we will either have a guarantee of quality, affordable health care we all can count on, or we will continue to be at the mercy of the private health-insurance industry," Liebman said.

Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, chairman of the Senate health committee, reacted to the announcement by saying, "I think the time of year is critical. Health care is one of the cornerstones of the (fall presidential) campaign. At the very least – and more than likely – it will do more. It will raise the level of debate, and it will engage more citizens to be thinking about it."

On the other hand, Christine Stearns, a vice president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said health-care spending has to come from somewhere.

"Where I think it doesn't add up is how it is going to be paid for," she said. "We all know health care is in a crisis. And to have people pay less than they are now, it is hard to see how that is going to work. I am not sure that this gets us there."

The event in Trenton at the State House mirrored unveilings in 52 other U.S. cities, including about two-thirds of the state capitals, staged by the alliance called Health Care for America Now.

"Health care is going to the most healthy and the most wealthy," said Rex Reid, political representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME.

Alliance members come from advocates for health care, consumers, seniors, students, people with disabilities, women, labor, faith-based efforts, civil-rights and social-justice groups.

Also Tuesday, Corzine signed legislation he called "a stepping stone" toward health insurance for all New Jerseyans. The new law mandates health-care coverage for children and expands the state's FamilyCare program to cover roughly 25,000 lower-income adults within the first year.

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