On Thursday, November 11, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus stopped at Grady Hospital to hear testimony on local health care issues and to release their position paper on improving the health care system throughout the country. Joining the Caucus were celebrities Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover. Highlighting the public testimony were members of the Grady Coalition including Dr. Sam Newcom, Joyce Dorsey of the Fulton-Atlanta Community Action Authority and Jeff Graham of AIDS Survival Project. The stop at Grady was part of the Economic Human Rights Bus Tour sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies and Food First.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus is a 55-member body of the U.S. Congress. The Economic Human Rights Bus Tour is an effort to support ongoing regional and national actions aimed at alleviating poverty and connecting the individual issues of importance to local advocacy organizations into a broader movement towards economic human rights. Addressing the audience on November 11 were Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and actor/activist Harry Belafonte. Other members of the caucus who took part in the regional tour included Rep. John Lewis and Rep. Cynthia McKinney.
Much of the stop focused on the work of the Grady Coalition, whose broad membership includes seniors, disability rights advocates, members of Concerned Black Clergy, health care providers, union organizers and representatives of the gay and lesbian community. The Coalition successfully fought against a proposed policy of charging indigent patients a hefty co-payment for medications and office visits.
In his testimony before the caucus, Jeff Graham not only talked about the situation at Grady Hospital, but also highlighted Georgia's struggling AIDS Drug Assistance Program. He also reminded the Members of Congress that the AIDS crisis is not over and that people are still depending on their support as they face the challenges of living with HIV.
After the public testimony, the Caucus released its position paper regarding health care. Included in the paper is a special section on HIV/AIDS. During the closing comments, Harry Belafonte made a passionate plea for a renewed national and international commitment to ensuring that people living with HIV be guaranteed access to appropriate medical care and medications.
The full text of the position paper is as follows:
Progressive Caucus Health Goals And Positions
The Progressive Caucus is united in its goal of making health care a right, not a privilege. Every person should have access to affordable, comprehensive and high-quality medical care. We must use our health care dollars efficiently and ensure public accountability in all medical decisions. Based on this goal, we support the following principles:
Ensuring Access To Health Care For All
- All Americans, including the 44 million currently without health insurance, deserve to have the health care they need, regardless of ability to pay.
- Medicare must remain solvent and available for the millions of seniors and individuals with disabilities who rely on the program. The Progressive Caucus supports expanding the program to cover prescription drugs and other needed products and services for beneficiaries. We support a Medicare buy-in for individuals age 55 and older. We support lowering out-of-pocket costs for seniors who currently pay, on average, 20% of their income for health care.
- Proposals should be rejected to change traditional Medicare from a defined benefit to a defined contribution or voucher system.
- Balanced Budget Act cuts that are negatively affecting patient access to hospitals, nursing homes, and home health agencies must be restored.
- Medicaid must have the resources to continue to provide coverage and care for low-income individuals, including children in the CHIP program.
Helping Individuals With Disabilities
- Individuals with disabilities should retain their health benefits when they return to work and have access to rehabilitative and other needed services.
Coverage For Low-Income Individuals
- Funding, outreach and other programs serving low-income Americans should be expanded. Examples of such programs are the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB), Specified Low-income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB), and Qualified Individuals programs; transitional funds for Medicaid recipients who are also welfare-to-work recipients; and for HHS for mental health outreach for the elderly.
- Community Health Centers should be recognized as an integral part of health care delivery.
- Area Agencies on Aging and programs in the Older Americans Act should be supported, such as nutrition services, family caregiver support, supportive services and centers, long-term care ombudsman programs, elder abuse prevention, outreach, and other services.
- Long-term care needs for the elderly and individuals with disabilities must be addressed.
Working For Women's Health
- Women's health programs should be expanded, including preventative care such as cancer screenings and follow-up care after surgery or pregnancy.
- Programs at the Justice Department must be expanded to prevent violence against family planning clinics and to provide security at clinics for their employees and patients.
- Every insurer who provides prescription drug coverage should also include contraceptive coverage.
Expanding Minority Health Programs
- Minority health programs need to be expanded at The Office of Research on Minority Health, NIH, HRSA, and CDC.
Ensuring Access To Rural Health Care
- The specific challenges of providing health care in rural areas, such as the importance of telemedicine, rural qualified health centers, and access to providers should be recognized.
- Primary and preventative care programs must be improved and expanded.
Supporting Veterans' Health
- Veterans' health programs should be supported, including expanded access to specialized services.
- Long waiting times for basic examinations and treatments must be shortened.
Minimizing Corporate Interests' Role In Health Care
- Consumers and medical professionals, and not corporations, should make decisions with regard to health care, especially in the areas of HMO reform and prescription drug pricing.
Treating/Preventing/Educating on HIV/AIDS
- States should be allowed the option of expanding their Medicaid programs so that low income individuals with HIV disease can get early drug treatment and medical care for their condition.
- Policies to combat HIV/AIDS, especially those targeted at minorities, women, and children both domestically and abroad, should be expanded.
Ensuring Access To Needed Services
- The importance of mental health services should be recognized.
- The importance of substance abuse services should be recognized.
- The importance of complementary and alternative medicine should be recognized.