WASHINGTON – Christine Grewell thought she had her health care needs taken care of, paying monthly premiums for her Silver Spring family of five that add up to more than her mortgage payments.
But when Grewell’s daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006, the family’s insurance didn’t cover her $20,000-a-year medication — fortunately her college insurance did. And because Grewell has had a spinal surgery called a laminectomy, her insurance company won’t cover future costs related to her back, deeming it a pre-existing condition.
Grewell, 55, felt that she wasn’t getting enough out for what she was putting in, and she decided she was going to do something about it.
The Maryland woman was one of 24 people who travelled to Capitol Hill Wednesday to share their health insurance horror stories with members of Congress as part of a forum organized by the advocacy group Health Care for America Now.
“Families like mine need our elected officials to step up and do the right thing,” said Grewell. “Fix this immoral mess and make sure no more American families face bankruptcy while seeing to our family’s medical needs.”
Eight House Democrats attended the event, including Maryland Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, and John Sarbanes, D-Baltimore.
The participants bashed the private insurance industry for choosing profits over people, a common theme as the Democratic leadership makes one final push to pass a comprehensive health care bill.
“The fact of the matter is that the health insurance industry has created a profit machine that chews people up and spits them out,” said Sarbanes.
Sarbanes said the entire health care debate comes down to one fundamental question: “Are we as a country going to go on living in the world that’s created and run by the health insurance industry, playing by their rules? Or is it finally time that they start living in our world, playing by our rules?”
Van Hollen thanked the attendees for putting a human face on the problem and said their advocacy was going to give the bill the momentum it needs going into the next few weeks. The White House has stressed a March 18 deadline for a vote, but it’s unclear how realistic those expectations are.
Democrats are gearing up for a partisan fight over their use of a controversial parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation to ensure that a health care bill passes.
“We’re going to get this bill passed,” said Van Hollen. “And by God if our colleagues on the other side of the aisle could use majority rule to pass — and bring in Vice President Dick Cheney to cast the deciding vote on — a bill to provide tax cuts for the very wealthiest in this country, we can use majority rule to pass comprehensive health care reform.”
Republicans used reconciliation to pass President Bush’s tax cuts, but they argue that reconciliation should not be used to pass legislation with such a large impact on social policy.
The next hurdle for health care reform is winning the support of hesitant House Democrats who are uneasy about voting for the Senate version of the bill. House Democratic leaders need to come up with 216 votes, but they’re facing resistance within their own party from fiscal conservatives, anti-abortion advocates, and even some progressives who don’t think the bill does enough.
As they left Wednesday’s forum, Van Hollen and Sarbanes said that bringing real people and their stories to Washington will help their colleagues remember what the issue is really about.
“This is a reminder of all those dozens or hundreds of stories that you heard along the way,” said Sarbanes. “My hope is that by reminding us of that, having it flood back into people’s minds, they’ll understand why they’ve got to make these changes.”
Grewell is already looking forward to her next trip to the Capitol.
“We’re hoping the next time we get back together,” Grewell said, “it’s going to be when Obama is signing this thing into law.”