Sunday, December 6, 2009

AFSCME Nurses Rally for Reform

Local physician Hershey Garner voiced his support for reformed health care in Arkansas on Saturday during a news conference outside of the Fayetteville Town Center.

“As someone who works in Northwest Arkansas, I see first-hand how broken the system is,” he said. “It’s embarrassing that we are the only industrialized country that doesn’t have universal coverage. As a result, patients aren’t getting the care they need.”

The U.S. Senate, he said, is expected to vote on a reform bill in the coming days. But before senators can hold an up or down vote, 60 senators must first vote to end a Republican filibuster to kill the bill.

“What the Senate is doing is slowing the process,” he said. “Health care is a complex issue. We need to provide people with accurate information so they They’re not providing the help we need at the ground level. My hope is to get the information out there so we can aggressively pursue meaningful health care reform.”

Garner, who works with cancer patients in Northwest Arkansas, spoke to a handful of nurses from across the country Saturday. Participants, dressed in hospital scrubs, hit Fayetteville streets to distribute information on health care reform door-to-door. The local campaign was one of six similar canvasses in “battleground” states.

Valentina Zamora-Arrela, a registered nurse from San Bernardino, Calif., said the goal of Saturday’s news conference was to provide residents with accurate information regarding health care and to encourage U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, to vote on a health care option that will lower costs, improve quality and keep insurance companies honest.

Lincoln has yet to indicate how she will vote. Calls made to her offices in Little Rock, Fayetteville and Washington on Saturday weren’t answered.

“We need real reform that keeps my patients’ health in the hands of their nurses and doctors; not their insurance companies’,” Zamora-Arrela said.

“We see so many patients, especially in California where the economy has been hit so hard, who don’t have health care. We need a public option because no one should come between a person and their doctor.”

Asela Espiritu, a registered nurse from Orange County, Calif., said a public health insurance plan should be an option for everyone, alongside with private health insurance plans. The public plan, she said, would compete on a level playing field with private plans and would be administered by government, but funded through premiums.

“A lot of the information being distributed in the media is very one-sided,” she said. “People should to talk to nurses like me, who work in the health care field, so they can make a knowledgeable decision. They also need to pick up their phones and call their senator today. One vote counts for a lot. It could save our next generation.”

According to Zamora-Arrela, the Senate Finance Committee health care reform bill would include a 40 percent excise tax in 2013 on health care plans valued at more than $8,000 for individual coverage or $20,000 for family coverage.

Saturday’s event was sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Organizing for America and Working for America. Similar events took place in Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, North Dakota and Nebraska.

“Our employees have health care insurance,” said Stephen Smith, president of AFSCME Local 965. “We’re working for those who don’t have access to affordable health care. It’s not just about us, it’s about everyone.”

By Kate Ward, Northwest Arkansas Times, December 6, 2009, page 1.
AFSCME-United Nurses of America is over 60,000 nurses working in unity to advance quality and accountability in the healthcare setting through organizing, political action and nursing practice.

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