Publication:Johnson City Press; Date:Sep 23, 2009; Section:Front Page; Page Number:1A

Taking up a cause

• Sign wavers for health care reform draw plenty of attention.

By TERESA HICKS Press Medical/Health Writer

    Motorists headed home from work had more than street signs to read at the intersection of North State of Franklin Road and West Market Street Tuesday.

    A group of health reform supporters stood on the four corners during rush hour waving signs calling for national health care reform.

    “Our main message today is that if the insurance companies win, the rest of us lose,” said Janet Meek, coordinator for the East Tennessee Democrat Resource Center. “Insurance companies are spending $1.4 million a day advertising against health care reform. They have contributed more to (Congress) this year than they ever have in the same time period in the past.”

    One sign named insurance companies “the real death panels.” Another likened denials of coverage to murder.

    “Insurance companies are worried about their profits,” Meek said. “They’re worried about their stockholders, so what they’re doing is denying health care coverage to people who need it, dropping people from health coverage because they get sick, and basically just providing coverage to healthy young people.

    “I’d like to see some kind of reform that would take away the insurance companies’ ability to drop sick people, to refuse to cover pre-existing conditions. I’d like to see the price of insurance controlled so that it’s something
that every American can afford, and I’d like to see it controlled so that businesses big and small don’t have to see the cost of insurance take a big chunk out of their bottom line.”

    People driving by had varied responses to the picketers’ message. Some showed their support by raising a single fist. A few showed their disapproval by raising a single finger. Many motorists honked and waved as they passed the group, while some just shook their heads. Of those who expressed an opinion, however, most seemed to agree with the group’s message.

    “Hearing all those honks, I think so far we’re doing pretty good,” said Meek. “I hope that it’s empowering, in a way, for them to see that what they’ve been thinking is what other people have been thinking also.”

    Meek has been watching the health care debate closely this year and has recently seen what she considers a heartening change in the public opinion.

    “In August, when I went to town hall meetings and stayed up with the news, I was feeling very overwhelmed by all of the effort being put into disseminating ... wrong information,” she said. “I was discouraged by the people who seemed to feel like they were hearing the truth when I knew they weren’t.

    “But since Obama gave his speech to Congress, I’ve seen a whole different attitude. I think people just needed to be reassured that it’s not about hurting health care; it’s about making health care accessible.”

    Today, Meek is optimistic Congress will eventually agree on a solution that benefits everyone.

    “We’re up against large dollars and strong lobbying groups, but the American people can do it,” she said. “I’ve seen it here in the Tri-Cities, and I know that across the country we can make a difference, and we’ve got to. This is the most important issue of our lifetime.”