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Health Insurance Companies Slammed for Blocking Reform

Rally for Healthcare Reform. Photo by Michael Campbell.Thousands of union members, community activists, religious leaders and others—including a large contingent from the AFT—turned out in Washington, D.C., on March 9 to demand that insurance companies stop plotting to kill healthcare reform even as Congress debates bills to reform the nation's broken healthcare system.

The boisterous, diverse crowd marched from the AFL-CIO and AFSCME buildings, as well as from Dupont Circle, to the sound of beating drums, shouting slogans like, "Blocking healthcare is a crime," and "Healthcare can't wait." The crowd was so large it completely encircled the block-long Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C., where the front group for the nation's biggest insurance companies, America's Health Insurance Plans, is meeting. Health Care for America NOW sponsored the rally and march.

AFT president Randi Weingarten was one of the event's featured speakers. "We're here because while teachers are teaching, health insurance executives are scheming," she said. "They'd have you believe nothing is wrong with the American healthcare system—except that fewer and fewer of us can afford it. The folks inside the Ritz are trying to figure out how to stop real healthcare reform."

Rally for Healthcare Reform. Photo by Michael Campbell.Insurance costs have gone up so much that some school districts have dropped their insurance plans, she said. "And where is the money going? There has been a 428 percent increase in profits for the top 10 health insurance companies. Isn't that criminal? ... Health insurance exists for one purpose: to insure people who need it, not to ensure profits for the health insurance industry."

Nicole Varma from Arlington, Va., who has no healthcare insurance because she is unemployed, was among those taking part in the rally. "I am unable to get my medications because I can't afford them," she said. "We need to send a message to the insurance companies that they definitely need to listen to the people. We don't want insurance abuses. We want real healthcare reform."

Workers repeatedly described how they struggle to afford health insurance, an ever-growing expense that is eating away at their ability to pay a mortgage or send children to college. They included workers like George Estright, an AFSCME member who traveled from Harrisburg, Pa., for the rally. "We support healthcare reform to control insurance company profits," he said. "It's not right for working Americans to pay for 200 percent profits for insurance companies. We need something that is fair and equitable."

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told the crowd that insurance companies won't stop unless we stop them—and we can do that by passing healthcare reform legislation. "So today we're here to put the insurance companies on notice: We will not allow you and your lobbyists to bully Congress into not acting. Not on healthcare or any of the issues important to America's working families."

The crowd placed crime scene tape around the hotel, and several union leaders and victims of health insurance abuse delivered a "warrant" to the front of the hotel calling for the arrest of the insurance company executives. [AFL-CIO Now, Barbara McKenna, Adrienne Coles, photos by Michael Campbell]

March 9, 2010