You’ve seen the signs. You’ve heard the supporters – and their opponents. The facts are scary enough without the fiction and that’s why there is such a strong push to pass national health care reform this year.
The facts: runaway private health insurance costs, denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions and the high unemployment levels are driving millions of people out of any health care coverage. According to the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, API communities have a higher rate of uninsured (21.8 percent) than most, and are less frequently understood by health care professionals – including having cultural and language barriers. And, most small businesses, of which there are many in the API community, cannot afford to provide health care for their employees or themselves. There are over 45 million Americans who have no safety net.
There is a safety net here in the Seattle API community. Over 35 years ago, the I.D. Free Clinic provided free basic health care to the elderly residents of Seattle’s Chinatown International District. Today, ICHS is a $20 million dollar community medical, dental and acupuncture clinic at New Holly as well as in the International Examiner serving 16,000 people a year. But, ICHS, and all other community-based health clinics, are in real jeopardy if health care reform is not accomplished this year.
In 2008, 19 percent of ICHS patients were uninsured – costing ICHS $1.5 million – with another 20 percent on state funded Basic Health. With deficits at the state, county and city as well as the federal level, it is hard to know whether Basic Health insurance will continue. And, that’s why ICHS CEO, Teresita Batayola is a leading health care reform advocate, including having been the emcee at the May 30th Health Care for All rally in Pratt Park with 3,500 people.
Another API leader in health care reform is Sofia Aragon, Senior Government Affairs Advisor for the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) that represents 12,000 registered nurses in the state. As a second generation nurse, she saw first hand the struggle her mother went through as a nurse educated in the Philippines and who could not get licensed as an RN here in the states.
As an RN and attorney, Aragon wanted to affect health policy. She worked as a legislative policy analyst for the Washington State Department of Health before becoming an advocate for the WSNA. Aragon is also focused on recruiting new people – especially bilingual/bicultural – into the nursing field. There is still a real shortage of nurses and it’s a great profession for young people in the API community to consider. Participation on the front lines of health care reform is a natural extension of Aragon’s ongoing work.
There is also a new generation of advocates in the API community. Lynne Nguyen is lead health care organizer at WashingtonCAN, a coalition of organizations committed to supporting the needs of lower income families in the state. She has helped to organize several events, including the May 30th Health Care for All rally and march.
Raised in southern California and a graduate of UCLA, Lynne grew up in a socially conscious family and all three of her older sisters are community activists.
“Health care reform is important for API communities in particular because we are so deeply impacted by the issue,” said Nguyen. “We need a public health insurance option as part of the reform to make the private health insurance companies accountable & honest, and to reduce costs.” After health care legislation passes Congress, Nguyen will move on to another community organizing project. Oh, and did I mention that Lynne Nguyen is 24 years-old?
Activists or not, no one can sit on the sidelines. The health care system is broken and reform is needed now. People can differ on specific elements of health care reform, but everyone needs to push the U.S. House and Senate to work to pass Health Care Reform NOW! Call your Congressperson and Senators Cantwell and Murray. Give them the courage to do the right thing. Health insurance reform needs to happen this year.