To the Baby Boomers who packed the Rochester Museum and Science Center’s Eisenhart Auditorium last night, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is something of a folk hero. He has pushed for health-care reform for more than a decade. In his soft-spoken Walt Disney-like voice, he said, “We’re at a crossroads in this country,” referring to the ailing US health-care system. Meeting President Barack Obama’s request for a bill he can sign into law by the end of this year that would reform health care is going to be difficult, he said.
Conyers is the author HR 676: The US National Healthcare Act, a single-payer approach to health-care reform. He was here to talk about the bill and the obstacles to getting it through the House and Senate at “Rochester Speaks Out.” The meeting also featured Representative Eric Massa (D-NY), actress and activist Mimi Kennedy, and University of Rochester professor Theodore Brown. Rochester was one of 50 cities nationwide holding similar meetings.
Conyers warned that just because Democrats hold power in the White House and control the House and the Senate, history shows that Democrats can’t be relied on for health-care reform any more than Republicans. Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not only sought the wrong advice on crafting new legislation, they made it too complicated, Conyers said.
Obama, he said, is heading down a similar path.
“Some of the people in his Cabinet are not the smartest people,” Conyers said.
And he is worried that Democrats will not have the political will to stand up to opponents of single-payer care. Polling from mainstream media shows that the public knows that the health-care system doesn’t work, but is divided about action to correct it.
HR 676 has 75 co-sponsors, but there are Democrats who still have not signed on to the bill, including Rochester Representative Louise Slaughter. And some Democrats in Congress, Conyers said, are actively trying to block the bill.
Part of the reason similar bills have failed in the past, Kennedy said, is due to an attitude in American society that says, “Some people are going to suffer, probably due to their own self-inflicted misfortunes.” Many Americans seem to believe that the reason people don’t have health care is because they are unemployed or work low-skills jobs. More education is needed to help Americans shift away from a system that links health care to employers, Kennedy said.
Since taking office, Massa said that he has had 35 families come to him for help because a child or a parent was being denied life-saving medical care from insurance companies.