Hundreds Rally At Bushnell Park For Statewide Universal Health Care Coverage
May 6, 2007
By KIM MARTINEAU, Courant Staff Writer
The bad news came at once. Terry Forde learned that his wife had breast cancer in the same month that CIGNA, her longtime employer, told her she was being laid off. The couple would now have to survive on the money Forde made cleaning offices, without health benefits, when they needed medical care the most.
"We had to make a choice, whether to pay for insurance at $600-$700 a month or feed the kids," he said Saturday below the Capitol's gold dome. "Nobody should have to make that choice in a state where there's so much abundance."
The movement for universal health care coverage landed on the legislature's doorstep Saturday as hundreds of people took to Bushnell Park to send a message. About 350,000 people statewide have no insurance, and as medical costs rise, the numbers are growing.
Though legislators have promised to expand coverage to everyone, the estimated cost - up to $18 billion, the size of the entire state budget - has left many discouraged. The rally, organized by the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, was meant to keep the pressure on while the legislature remains in session.
Just about everyone at the rally had a painful story to share.
Evelyn Vega, 41, a school bus driver in Hartford, had just dropped off the last student on her route this winter when her vision went blurry and she started feeling chest pains. She was rushed to the hospital, where her health insurance, through Laidlaw Transit, paid the bills.
But she was forced to pay the $700 tab for prescription drugs herself, which on a $15-an-hour salary was all but hopeless. Ashamed, she asked co-workers and family in Puerto Rico for help. She now goes without insurance on the gamble that she won't get sick again.
"A little help for medical coverage would be great," said Vega, who used to work as a chef at the Bronx Zoo. "A lot of people are in worse situations than mine."
Unlike many bus drivers in Connecticut, Vega belongs to a labor union, SEIU, which has negotiated health benefits for its workers. But because her wages are relatively low compared to the price of health care premiums, she and other unionized workers struggle to make medical care a priority.
Lydia Pacheco, a bus driver from New Haven, hopped on a bus sponsored by her church to get to the rally Saturday. Her husband has asthma, but they can't afford the $300 monthly premium for insurance to get him treatment.
"Porcherìa! How do you say that?" she asked. A spokesman for SEIU, handing out purple pins, provided a translation of her Italian: "Lousy," he said.
Shelly Jackson, a divorced mother of four sporting a cowboy hat, stopped to talk as a Latin band played on stage. She works as a recreation assistant for the city of Hartford but because her job is part time she's ineligible for health insurance. She said she's put off treatment for a chronic skin disorder and other problems.
"I'll go without to make sure my kids have what they need," she said.
In the past, Jackson has racked up medical debt that her church has helped her pay off. "You try not to stress out and get sick again," she said of her coping strategy.
Several years after his wife's cancer diagnosis, Forde said she's doing OK. He remains self-employed, but they now get health coverage through the state. The experience, though, has made him passionate about health care reform. "It's time to do something," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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