Health care reform an obligation to Kennedy, lawmaker tells Indian Americans

Chicago, Aug 30 ( US Congresswoman Jan Schekowsky told an audience of Indian Americans, including physicians and other health care providers, that she felt a personal obligation to Senator Edward Kennedy to pass a bill for universal health care in the US this year.

“For me, this is my life’s work,” she said.

Schekowsky, a Democratic Congresswoman from Chicago, has been very active on issues like immigration and health care reforms.

Schekowsky said the opponents of the health care reform had raised the decibel level on the debate while obfuscating the issues.

“There are a lot of myths. Maybe our (Democratic party) message has not been clear,” she said.

The packed meeting was organised by the Indo-American Democratic Organization, a political networking group.

“The US is the only industrialized country which does not have health care as a right,” Schekowsky said. She came down heavily on private insurance companies for their arbitrary behaviour.

“Today, private insurance companies can cancel your policy if you fall sick.”

According to recent surveys, over 52 percent of Americans had to forgo or postpone either a screening, treatment, or prescription drug because they could not afford it,” she said.

Schekowsky said that private insurers had high overheads because they had to factor in their huge advertising budgets and their record profits, into the premiums, adding: “I do not feel an obligation to worry about the profits of private insurers. The insurance industry is exempt from all anti-trust laws. We do not have to pass a hat for the insurance industry.”

Several ‘town hall’ meetings on the contentious issue of health care reform have been disrupted recently by loud, sometimes even violent, protests from members of the audience. Democratic party members have accused conservative talk show hosts and right wing groups of deliberately spreading misinformation.

Some physicians in the audience tried to engage Schekowsky on the issue of medical malpractice lawsuits, which they asserted increased the cost of health care, while forcing physicians to practice ‘defensive medicine’ and order unnecessary medical procedures on patients as a result.

Schekowsky, however, said she would not enter into an argument on the issue and asserted that studies had shown that malpractice claims did not significantly raise the overall cost of health care.

Illinois State Senator Heather Steans noted that patients on Medicaid (the state run health programme for low income individuals and families) found it difficult to get a physician.

“This is because Medicaid payments for physicians are low and given the budget deficit in Illinois, there is a significant delay in the payments being made,” she said.

Opposing the ‘public option’ proposed in President Barack Obama’s health care plan, an Indian American physician said ‘socialized medicine’ would not work. “Look at the health care system in countries like England and Canada,” he said, “Compared to them, we are doing just fine.”

This comment drew a sharp response from Schekowsky. “We just heard from a lady on her experience with the US health care system,” she said.

Schekowsky was referring to an Indian American, Sunita Chopra, one of the speakers at the event, who spoke about the hardships of meeting the health care expenses of her disabled parents. Chopra had recently written to Obama detailing her struggles with meeting health care costs.

In response, Obama wrote: “I share the sense of urgency that Americans like you have voiced. I watched as my ailing mother struggled with stacks of insurance forms in the last moments of her life. This is not who we are as a nation; together we will fix it(the health care system).”