The New York Times

New Group Demands Health Care Reform

The New York Times — Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Caucus
The New York Times Politics Blog

By Michael Falcone

About halfway through a news conference in Washington, where the heads of major labor unions and liberal advocacy groups lined up one after another to push a multi-million dollar campaign for health care reform, it was time for the auto mechanic from Bar Harbor, Me. to speak up.

"This is my busiest time of year and I shouldn't be here," said David White, who owns a small auto repair shop in the coastal resort community. But Mr. White showed up anyway to tell a story about his struggle to provide health care to his workers.

"I'm proud to have paid the entire cost of platinum health coverage for my employees and their families. I considered it the right thing to do," he said. "However when our insurance doubled in two years something had to change."

Mr. White said he was forced to downgrade to a lesser-priced policy, raise rates and lay off one employee for six months to make up for the higher premiums.

"I was literally in tears laying this out to my men," he said. "And I'm not really fond of crying."

A stand-in for other small business owners throughout the country, Mr. White was handpicked to speak by organizers of the new group Health Care for America Now, which officially kicked off its $40 million campaign to help all Americans access quality, affordable health care.

The group is spending $1.5 million during the next two to three weeks on an advertising campaign, which includes television, print and online ads. Organizers said they would spend $25 million over the next five months on additional paid media and millions more on a grassroots effort that includes placing staff in 45 states. It will also put pressure on members of Congress in key districts to support reform. The first 30-second television spot will air on national cable channels as well as some local Washington stations.

"One thing is crystal clear," said Richard Kirsch, National Campaign Manager for Health Care for America Now, "If we want health care reform that works for us, we cannot trust the insurance industry to make it happen."

Health Care for America Now is made up of more than 100 organizations and received its initial funding from 13 groups that are part of its steering committee as well as a $10 million grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies. Members of the steering committee include, the American Federation of State Community and Municipal Employees, the National Education Association and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, among others. (A full list can be found on the group's Web site.) Each steering committee member group contributed at least $500,000 to the campaign -- some gave much more.

Mr. Kirsch said that his group was not taking a specific stand – just yet – on the health care proposals offered by the two presumptive presidential nominees, Senator John McCain and Barack Obama, but emphasized that it is the government's responsibility to guarantee affordable coverage for all Americans.

The campaign, he said, will mean that "the health insurance industry won't have the battlefield to themselves,' during this election year. "They will have to answer to the American people."

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, who is a health care reform advocate and coalition supporter was not at Tuesday's event at the National Press Club because she was attending the funeral for former Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. But in a statement she said: "Millions of Americans are sitting around their kitchen table at night, wondering why it is so difficult to afford the basics these days – especially health care. They come from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common: they know our health care system is broken, and they want a fair, common-sense solution that makes quality coverage affordable for everyone. Our mission is to make sure their voices get heard in Washington D.C., and everywhere else."

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