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Health Care Advocates Bring Protest To State, Business Leaders

By ZACHARY ABRAHAMSON | Courant Staff Writer

July 25, 2008

Jody Trestman spoke in a voice she hoped would carry to the offices of Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

"We are standing here today because a person's health should no longer be trumped by a corporation's bottom line," said Trestman, whose February diagnosis of Crohn's disease came one month after she downgraded her family's insurance coverage to an HMO.

Why the switch? Her insurance company had raised its rate 9 percent in a single quarter.

Trestman spoke from the steps of the Capitol on Thursday as part of a demonstration calling on Rell and the business community, in the form of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, to cut the cost and broaden the accessibility of health insurance during the 2009 legislative session.

"In 2009, we will either have a guarantee of quality, affordable health care we all can count on or we will continue to be at the mercy of the private health insurance industry that is charging us more, giving us less and putting company profits before our health," Phil Sherwood, deputy director of Connecticut Citizen Action Group, said in a release.

Citizens for Economic Opportunity organized the march with Sherwood's agency as part of a broader, national initiative sponsored by the advocacy group Health Care for America Now. Organizers said they hoped to draw attention to what they called "the need for quality, affordable health care for all Americans."

Nearly 50 marchers rallied outside CBIA's Church Street headquarters and Rell's office to deliver letters to CBIA president John Rathgeber and Rell expressing disappointment in their opposition to legislation that would have extended the state's employee health insurance coverage to municipalities and small businesses.

In June, Rell vetoed the bill sometimes called the health pooling bill saying it could cost the state tens of millions of dollars and might not broaden coverage as promised.

Neither Rathgeber nor Rell were available to receive the letters. A spokesman for Rell said the governor would honor her pledge to take up the issue again in 2009.

"The governor has said that she welcomes the opportunity to work with supporters of the health care pooling bill to develop a revised and workable proposal for consideration in the next regular legislative session," said Adam Liegeot, Rell's spokesman.

A CBIA spokeswoman said the agency is concerned with the state of health care in Connecticut but believes pooling will not fix the problem.

"We all want health care reform, there's no question about that," CBIA spokeswoman Nancy Andrews said. "The question is how to go about it. We need to focus on reducing cost drivers, improving the quality of care and providing the uninsured access to health care."

Leaders in the health insurance industry rebuff accusations they put profits ahead of health care, saying instead that they are part of a private-insurance-based solution by maintaining efficiency in the system in order to expand coverage.

Organizers said the main point of the march was to raise awareness about the issue, rather than present detailed solutions to the problem. Citizens for Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Cari Carter said the organization will wait until the 2009 legislative session to outline its plans fully.

"We're going to get into the nitty-gritty once the session starts," she said. "Today is about the bigger picture."

Nearly 10 percent of Connecticut residents more than 350,000 people have no health insurance, according to the most recent statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A national spokewsowman for Health Care for America Now echoed Carter's remarks and said the group had only put forth a statement of common purpose, outlining 10 issues that must be addressed in health care reform.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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