The Daily Targum

Health Care Reform Vigil Draws Support For Public Plan Option

The Daily Targum — Thursday, September 3, 2009

By Andrew Gold
Contributing Writer

More than a hundred supporters of a public health care option turned out Wednesday night at the Reformed Church in Highland Park for a health care vigil, with organizers calling for a R.E.A.L plan — "Ready right away, part of a plan to cover Everyone, Accountable to the public, and Large enough to contain costs."

Several groups, including NJ Citizen Action, Central Jersey MoveOn Local Council, Central NJ for Change and the Health Care for America Now Campaign, helped organize what was billed as a vigil to give recognition to those suffering under the current health care system, and to show support for reform.

The event was one of hundreds taking place nationwide, as advocates mobilized to send their local representatives to Washington, D.C. after the Congressional recess.

"We have a health care crisis in this country, with tens of thousands of people dying every year because they're uninsured or under-insured," said Health Care Campaign Coordinator for NJ Citizen Action Eve Weissman. "This event is different than the other events in the sense that it's a vigil ... a more quiet, somber event."

Passing motorists on Raritan Avenue were anything but quiet, many honking their horns and yelling out car windows in support of the people in the church parking lot holding signs with pro-public option slogans.

Vigil attendant Rich Punko, a retired teacher and former army sergeant, recalled his experience with an insurance provider who he said tried to deny his wife health care as she suffered from complications of diabetes.

"She was number one on the list to get a kidney transplant ... they couldn't do it because she was too sick so she stayed in the hospital eight months," Punko said.

The insurance provider often tried to deny payment for the hospital stay, Punko said. The doctors personally intervened, and in his experience, doctors are supportive of a public option as well.

"My family doctor is in favor of single-payer [option]," he said.

Coordinator at MoveOn.org and psychotherapist Susan Gutwill said she is personally supportive of a single-payer plan, but ultimately wishes to see at least some kind of publicly funded, widely available health care system become a reality.

"MoveOn is fighting for the possibility of a public option, which is actually possible if we push hard in Congress," she said.

Several individuals spoke about their experiences with the current health care system and why they believed reform was needed. This part of the event concluded with words in memory of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, for whom health care reform was a priority.

Organizers said they did not rule out the possibility of disturbances by opposing protestors, similar to those occurring in town hall meetings across the country. But most public showing of opposition was absent.

From the church parking lot, those participating in the vigil walked down Raritan Avenue to the bridge, candles and signs in-hand, and offering shouts to passersby calling on President Barack Obama and Congress to act on a public health care option.

The health care crisis may have a direct effect on University students as well.

Jeffrey Axelbank, a psychologist and management consultant who practices in Highland Park, has seen students end therapy services when they graduate and lack other coverage.

Jusleine Daniel, a University graduate student in the School of Social Work, said the current health care system was not much help to her after she was assaulted on the street in New Brunswick and needed emergency medical care. Since she was over the age of 24, she could not be covered under a parent's plan, and was left with no other options.

"As a part-time student, I wasn't eligible for health care coverage. However, I wasn't eligible for health care coverage at work, so I spent a certain amount of time uninsured," Daniel said. "At the end of the day, I had a bill for $14,000 that I had to pay, plus I couldn't work because of the injuries."

A significant number of both undergraduate and graduate students at the University are over the age of 24, and Daniel did not view her predicament as necessarily unique.

"It could happen to anybody," she said.

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