For the nearly twenty percent of Oregonians who go without health insurance, one illness can be the difference between yearly profits and insurmountable debt. A 2008 study published by the law and medicine journal Health Matrix says unpaid medical bills contribute to nearly half of all foreclosures in the United States.
Health care reform advocates are saying enough is enough.
Health Care for America NOW! held 20 "house parties" across Oregon Sunday, in an effort to build statewide support for the establishment of a public, tax-payer funded health care system. One party was held Sunday in Ashland at the home of former city councilor Alice Hardesty.
"We're unions, activists and labor organizations," said Steve Neuberger, Southern Oregon coordinator for the non-profit advocacy organization.
A public health care plan differs from "single-payer" and universal care proposals, by allowing satisfied medical recipients to keep their existing package. But those who cannot afford adequate coverage, or are left uncovered by their employers, could opt into the public system.
HCAN was founded in July 2008, at the peak of the presidential election campaign. Neuberger says that timing, as well as the election of Barack Obama, put the group in an excellent position to shape health care policy.
"We formed when we did to make sure health care was part of the presidential debate," Neuberger said. "We feel we were successful."
In addition to gathering public input, Sunday's house parties featured a joint conference call with Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, a proponent of the public health care plan. He warned listeners of the urgency behind health care reform, noting that in addition to the 50 million Americans who do not have health insurance, "Tens of millions more have plans that are not adequate to their needs.
"We won't be able to get the American economy moving again without a health care plan," he said.
HCAN aired the conference call at three Ashland locations, including the home of former city councilor Alice Hardesty, where concerned residents gathered to listen to the Congressman, and to voice their own concerns.
"I'm retired, and I have a very good health plan," said Ashland resident Don Morris. "But all the people without health care turn 65 and get thrown into Medicare." He said a publicly funded program would save Americans money in the long run, by reducing the extent to which seniors will have to rely on Medicare in the future.
"It's essential insurance companies be disciplined and that they have good competition," Morris said, and those in attendance largely agreed.
"The whole health care system needs to be changed. It's disgusting," said Wendy Eppinger.
To an extent, President Obama agrees as well. Last week, he and the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives issued a July 31 deadline to pass new health care legislation. The purpose of this deadline is reportedly to get a bill through the House before the August recess, so the Senate vote on it immediately afterward.
Whether the bill includes language authorizing a public care system remains to be seen. Neuberger and the other members of HCAN are counting on it.
"Folks are organizing at the grassroots level," Neuberger said. "It's going to be a real fight. That's why we are here."