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Universal health care advocacy group readying for local rally

By Rachel Roubein
Carroll County Times, April 29, 2013

What started as the formation of an about eight-person book club spiraled into the creation of a local grassroots effort to advocate for universal health care in Maryland.

The club members read one book: “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care” by T.R. Reid. Afterward, they readied themselves to take on the cause, which they accomplished by contacting Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland.

At Birdie’s Cafe in Westminster Friday, three members of Carroll County’s chapter of Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland and statewide organizer Sergio España told of the formation of the grassroots campaign locally. They told of their excitement for the state’s first speakout — a rally to share health-care stories — which will be held in Carroll County on Saturday.

They spoke passionately about making health care a public good.

“No one should not have health care,” group member Frank Reitemeyer said. “For me, that’s the biggest thing, and it’s getting to the point where it’s unaffordable for everybody, and we’re all suffering because of it.”

So it’s time to take action, to take care of family, friends and neighbors who might be uninsured, he said.

From 2010 to 2011, about 771,500 people were uninsured in Maryland, which is 13 percent of the state’s population, according to www.statehealthfacts.org, a product of the Kaiser Family Foundation that analyzes Census Bureau data.

Nearly 7 percent of Carroll adults were uninsured in 2011, according to The Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County community dashboard. Additionally, more than 2 percent of children were without insurance that same year.

This wouldn’t be the case with a universal health-care system. It works like this: Health care would be publicly funded and treated like a public good, such as education. No one would have to pay when they go see a doctor, as it would be funded through taxpayer dollars, according to the group.

The campaign is looking to Vermont as an example, which became the first state to pass a publicly funded health-care system in 2011. Under the law, the state will set up a universal health-care system for all residents, likely by 2017, according to www.vermont.gov. Through banding together, Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland — which has chapters in Howard, Montgomery, Baltimore and Frederick counties — strives to set up a similar system, according to España.

“Everybody quietly knows that something’s wrong with our health-care system,” he said, “but how do we connect with each other?”

The Carroll chapter hopes to make those connections locally — and to put a face on the uninsured and others burdened by the cost of medical bills, group member Sandy Wright said.

It’s an expense that can be a struggle, she said. She’s not only read about it but watched the frustration firsthand. Wright and her husband pay for her daughter and grandson’s insurance to help them out.

“We’re not going to live forever,” Wright said, “so we need to get [universal health care] set up so she can get insured.”

The campaign officially kicked off statewide in December, and members are in the midst of collecting surveys from state residents. Questions include asking an individual if they’ve had to forgo medical care because of costs and if they’ve ever had an issue receiving the care they need.

The group also aims to foster dialogue on the issue throughout the state this year, according to España.

Rep. Justin Ready, R-District 5A, said he’d be willing to engage in conversation on the topic but thinks making health care a public good isn’t the right way to address the system’s affordability.

“It’s important to look at it from the cost side — what can we do both in government and the community to bring down the cost of care?” said Ready, who sits on the state House’s Health and Government Operations Committee. “I think that should be the most important focus.”

The transition to universal health care in the state won’t be immediate, group member Becky Powel said, but it’s a cause she’s willing to fight for.

For Reitemeyer, it comes down to morality.

“Just because you’re rich doesn’t mean that you are allowed to be healthy,” he said, “and that the guy who’s busting his butt with two or three jobs or the woman who’s doing that can’t afford to have their children raised with good health care. It’s just — it’s immoral. That’s the whole point of the campaign.”

If You Go

What: Local residents will share health care stories at this event, called a Speakout, hosted by the Carroll County chapter of Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland

When: 2 to 5 p.m., May 4
Where: St. Paul's United Church of Christ, 17 Bond St., Westminster

For more information, contact CarrollCountyHCHR@gmail.com, www.facebook.com/HealthcareIsAHumanRightMaryland or 240-478-8193.

http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/news/local/universal-health-care-advoc...