N.J. Labor Groups Join Health Care Reform Rally In D.C.

The Record ( — Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Record

A noisy but generally peaceful crowd demanding health reform surrounded a Washington hotel with mock police tape Tuesday and read a series of "criminal charges" against insurance industry executives meeting inside.

"If they're ready to kill the bill they need to know there are people out there, more than 17 percent, that actually need health care now," said Omar Dyer of Bergenfield, who came to the rally on one of two buses from New Jersey.

"They need it like today. They don't need it tomorrow, they don't need it 10 years from now. It's now or never. It's killing our budgets, it's busting up everything we have," Dyer said.

Most of the crowd of several hundred demonstrators outside the Ritz Carlton Hotel wore labor union logos and carried printed signs that included "wanted" posters for insurance executives and slogans such as "Listen to us, not Wall Street," "Insurance Profits — Bad for my health" and "Big insurance, don't milk the system."

The New Jersey buses were arranged by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union and New Jersey Citizen Action, an labor-allied activist group.

"I had a decent job, and I got laid off," said Christina Suthammanont of Jersey City. "We want health care reform and we want it with a public option. We want it affordable. We want our elected officials to respond to us and not the insurance industry, to big Pharma, to these Tea Partiers or to people who already have government insurance."

Suthammanont said she believed criticism of the health plan before Congress would subside once it was enacted and people saw it was not "a government takeover."

Lois Rosenkrantz of Bloomfield, a senior citizen who works part-time as a secretary and relies on Medicare and a small supplemental policy, said the ideal system would be for everyone to have Medicare coverage.

"There's never been a problem. We go to any doctor we want to," she said. "Insurance companies do not need their big profits and they do not need enormous paychecks and bonuses."

The health insurance bill that passed the Senate in December and would likely be the foundation of any final bill Congress enacts one would not put all Americans on a Medicare-type, government-run program. Rather, it would create an exchange where private insurers would presumably compete for business of uninsured individuals and small businesses. Large companies would largely continue to cover their employers as they do now.

Rising insurance premiums have increasingly become the targets of reform advocates, from President Obama on down.

Rally leaders read a series of "charges" against insurers including money laundering for funding advertisements attacking reform through the Chamber of Commerce, and bribery for campaign contributions designed to derail reform.

"They're in there trying to plot how to get more money out of our pockets," Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said before leading the crowd in a chant of "No More Greedy Profits."

The Associated Press reported about 10 people were led away by police after trying to enter the hotel to serve an "arrest warrant," but no arrests were made. Protesters surrounded the front of the building with yellow police-style tape reading, "It's a crime to deny our care" before breaking up and heading to buses or subways.

Inside, the meeting of the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans was not interrupted. A call seeking an AHIP comment on the rally was not immediately returned.

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