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Scenes from a Health Reform Phone Bank

happyphone2The setting: The living room of a volunteer’s apartment in Manhattan.

The action: A night of phoning voters, mostly Obama supporters, in Florida, Indiana, and Virginia. Many wrong or disconnected numbers, or no one home (so we leave messages).

“Hello, my name is —. I’m a grassroots volunteer with Organizing for America [1] and we’re helping President Obama pass health care reform this year. We’re not asking for money, but would just like to ask your opinion, please . . .”

The question we ask is, Do you support health care reform with a strong public option? We don’t assume people know exactly what the public option is, but help them along (“as you probably know . . .”) and briefly compare it to expanding Medicare for people under 65. It’s just an additional option at a lower cost than private plans. If you’re happy with what you’ve got, there’s no need to change . . .

“I need that,” says one woman. “My husband’s retired, he’s 68, and he’s on Medicare, but I’m 60 so I’m not eligible for it yet, and I’m trying to get a job, but my eyesight’s bad and I can’t really work. I’m not eligible for anything, and we’re not really able to make ends meet as it is.” Pause. Very sorry to hear that, ma’am. That’s what we’re trying to get for you. We’re calling voters in Florida and other states to ask them to call their senators and tell them you want the public option. Here’s Senator Bill Nelson’s phone number in Tallahassee [the closest office]: 850-942-8415. Call him and tell him you want the public option. Tell him you’ve worked all these years, but now your eyes are going bad and you just need a little help.

Another woman, in her early 70s, answers right away, “If we don’t get the public option we’re screwed.” That is an exact quote. She said she would call, as she has done on other occasions, “but calling Bill Nelson’s like banging your head against the wall.” She knows people with dual citizenship who have flown to the Czech Republic and to Spain to get free or low-cost treatments that they couldn’t afford in the U.S.

The longest conversation was with a man in his mid 60s who described himself as “a former Republican” who voted for Obama. He feels disaffected from the GOP, made unwelcome by extremists who refuse to deal with plain and simple facts. He said he was thoroughly disgusted by what he had read about the Baucus plan presented by the Senate Finance Committee chairman and called it a gift to the medical industry. “It’s not gonna fix anything.” He said the U.S. should allow its citizens to import drugs from Canada or elsewhere as a way of bringing down costs. And so on, and on. He agreed to phone Bill Nelson, even though he had already e-mailed him four times about health care reform, and said he would check out the plan [2] passed in July by the late Senator Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee [3] (now chaired by Iowa senator Tom Harkin).

None of the voters we called had heard of the HELP Committee’s Affordable Health Choices Act [2], and were surprised to learn that Senator Kennedy’s committee had already approved a health care reform bill in July. They were intrigued to hear that Senator Al Franken of Minnesota [4] is backing it (as told to LNW by a staff member last week).

Out of 31 calls, 7 contacts, and all 7 say they’ll call Bill Nelson. Not every night has this high a success (“will call”) rate. But, incrementally, voter by voter, volunteer by volunteer, we can make it happen.

Totals for our group:

Calls: 541

Contacts: 105

Yes, will call Senator: 72

No, will not: 19

To learn more about Organizing for America and the President’s plan for health care reform, click barackobama.com [1].

To help improve health care in the New Orleans area by pressing for the restoration and reopening of Charity Hospital, closed since Hurricane Katrina, please check out the Foundation for Historical Louisiana [5].

LNW_CharityRenew1 [5]

“Katrina was not the only catastrophe for the poor of New Orleans [6]. The event has been used as an opportunity to close the door of Charity Hospital which since 1736, maintained a mission of treating the indigent and educating healthcare professionals. . . .”

Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, Journal of Public Health Management and Practice (2008). Lt. Gen. Honoré, U.S. Army (retired), was the Commander of the Joint Task Force in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

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