Rally hopes to bridge gap in health insurance

Rally hopes to bridge gap in health insurance

By Rob Daniel
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Health care was the focus Saturday at Hubbard Park as about 300 people rallied for improved access to health care insurance for all.

Bridge the Gap, highlighted by a march across the Iowa Avenue bridge, was one of several events across the country that highlighted the lack of medical coverage for about 82 million Americans, as a Family USA survey found. That includes 637,000 Iowans, most coming from working families, the survey said.

Iowa Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson highlighted the lack of health care coverage for some Iowans, saying people cannot be satisfied with numbers of those who do have coverage.

"If you don't have health care insurance you can die," Pederson said. "I believe it's a right. You believe it's a right."

A speaking highlight was by Pat Swancutt of Spencer, who spoke of her 18-year-old granddaughter Janelle Polson dying in 2001 after not being able to get tests for an unknown medical condition. Her daughter and Janelle's mother, Lisa Scott, was speaking at a similar rally at San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge, she said.

"If we get this health care affordable, then we'll feel we've done Janelle justice," Swancutt said, flanked by Janelle's sisters, Carly and Stevie.

The rally began with a march across the bridge, with marchers shouting phrases such as "Affordable health care - bridge the gap." They also vowed to "remember in November" in a song sung to the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," a shot at Republicans and the Bush administration, who they said did not back more universal health care coverage.

Bret McFarlin, a doctor and member of Physicians for a National Health Policy, a group that backs a government-backed universal health care system, said the Medicaid Reform Act approved by Congress last fall was a $500 billion giveaway to pharmaceutical companies.

"We're already paying for universal health care," McFarlin said. "We're just not getting it. We see this as the surest route to affordable health care for all."

The march and rally was designed to be non-partisan, said Sarah Swisher, state director of Iowa for Health Care, with no political candidates speaking.

"We're anxious to get people excited about equal health care," said Swisher, who also serves as the chairwoman of the Johnson County Democratic Party.

An outside group, Billionaires for Bush, also criticized the Bush administration before the march. Ten people dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns, carried glasses of champagne and signs that read "Less health care, more wealth care."

"The thing we want people to know is Bush always has ulterior motives," said Tom Garner, a Des Moines resident backing the group though not dressed up.

Iowans without health insurance

• More than one of every four people (25.2 percent) in Iowa under age 65 went without health insurance for all or part of the past two years.

• Of the 637,000 uninsured Iowans, nearly 60 percent were without insurance for six months or longer.

• Whites were the largest group - about 504,000 people- of uninsured.

• About 55 percent of Hispanics were uninsured, compared to 22.3 percent of white, non-Hispanic people.

• Most uninsured Iowans (82.4 percent) were members of working families.

• Families living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level were more likely to be uninsured.

Source: Families USA

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Rob Daniel at 339-7360 or