Speakers Call for Comprehensive Health Insurance for All

April 1, 2002

WASHINGTON-Senator John Breaux and Congresswoman Donna Christianson, speaking at the National Patient Advocate Foundation’s Patient Congress III, called for comprehensive, available health care and health insurance for all, regardless of age, income, or employment status.

WASHINGTON—Senator John Breaux and Congresswoman Donna Christianson, speaking at the National Patient Advocate Foundation’s Patient Congress III, called for comprehensive, available health care and health insurance for all, regardless of age, income, or employment status.

"Unfortunately, health care today depends on which ‘box’ you’re in," said Sen. Breaux (D-La). "If you’re poor, you’re in the Medicaid box. If you’re working, your employer often covers it. If you’re a veteran, there’s the VA. If you’re a poor child, there’s CHIP [Children’s Health Insurance Program], and if you’re old, you have Medicare."

The problem, Sen. Breaux said, is borne by those outside these boxes: from the self-employed to the working poor.

Health insurance should be just as mandatory as automobile insurance, he said, but with the federal government subsidizing premiums for low-income workers and the poor. "Having everyone in the pool with no exclusions would reduce the risk and eliminate the differential that exists now," he said.

His views were reinforced by Rep. Christianson (D-Virgin Islands). "Our ultimate goal is universal health insurance coverage, funded for the poor up to 400% of the poverty level, with 100% access to care and zero exclusions," she said.

She linked individual and economic well being, saying that the prosperity of the 1990s was based on increased productivity by average working people. Since productivity is, in part, affected by workers’ health, the health of each citizen is critical to that of the nation.

‘Beginning Steps’

Both officials decried the failure of the House and Senate to pass significant health care legislation, and both said that changes in priorities since September 11, 2001 had little to do with the problem.

"Back in June, we took the beginning steps toward a patients’ bill of rights, but we didn’t finish it," Sen. Breaux said. "Now we have to get organizations reunited and reignite the fire under the Congress. We can’t argue about who gets the credit or the blame. Some people would rather have the argument—and someone to blame—than pass the bill."

At stake, Sen. Breaux said, are not esoteric debates or ideological arguments, but the health of children, parents, and communities.

"Deficits and defense are taking resources from other concerns now, but this is not entirely due to September 11," Rep. Christianson said. "Even on September 10, we were fighting back cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Ryan White Act funding, the minority AIDS initiative, and other help for underserved communities."

Disproportionate Suffering

As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, she also noted that minority groups and the poor suffer disproportionately from substandard health care. One third of all Hispanics and one fifth of blacks lack health insurance, compared with about 12.5% of whites (one in eight), she said. Health care in rural areas is in peril, too.

"Health care is the civil rights issue for today," Rep. Christianson concluded. "It is not a new issue, but we need new strategies. Those who worked in the civil rights movement believed in the rightness of their cause. Faith sustained them. Now we need the same faith and strength for a hard fight ahead."