Healthcare debate hits the streets

Kris NerisonCollins shouts to travelers on Highway 525 during Wednesday’s protest over healthcare reform in Bayview. The demonstration attracted a crowd of roughly 60 from across South Whidbey and beyond. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Kris NerisonCollins shouts to travelers on Highway 525 during Wednesday’s protest over healthcare reform in Bayview. The demonstration attracted a crowd of roughly 60 from across South Whidbey and beyond.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

BAYVIEW — Angry but energetic, frustrated but fired up, a group of nearly 60 protesters gathered Wednesday night at the Bayview Park-and-Ride to shout out for healthcare reform.

The demonstration, organized by MoveOn Whidbey, was one of nearly 300 public protests held across the country Wednesday to promote a “public option” as part of the healthcare-reform package under consideration by Congress.

Those who gathered on the South End said they hoped their show of support would encourage others to learn more about reform efforts under way, rather than rely on the unfounded criticism that has ranged from fears of “death panels” to worries that the elderly may be euthanized.

“It’s easy to be afraid of what you don’t understand,” said Kris NerisonCollins of Freeland, who had harsh words for the partisan portrayals of changes to the healthcare system.

“It’s infuriating. It’s tragic,” she said.

Those who are benefitting from the status quo, NerisonCollins added, were doing so to the detriment of everyone else. “And that’s just selfish.”

“There’s enough for everybody, but not when you hoard. That’s what I see them doing. It’s sickening,” she said.

“I think it’s immoral — healthcare for profit,” added Jerry McGarry of Scatchet Head.

McGarry said his phone bill has gone up more than a hundred dollars in recent months with all the calls he has made to elected officials on healthcare reform.

He said he was growing frustrated with politicians who were waffling on a public option.

McGarry’s message was simple: “Have some spine, or resign.”

For roughly two hours, the group hoisted signs and banners — some with references to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy — as they yelled and waved to traffic passing by on Highway 525.

There were just a few sour responses from passers-by, but many more honks and shouts of encouragement, some a little bit too enthusiastic, like the driver who took both his hands off the wheel to give two thumbs up while leaning toward his passenger-side window, or the driver who energetically waved with one hand while her other hand held a cell phone to her ear.

Bonnie Mejía of Clinton said she decided to come to the rally after getting word from MoveOn about the gathering.

She supports legislation that would include a public option.

“I think it would be really simple and everybody would be covered. Take over Medicare and enlarge it,” she said. “It would be simple.”

She said she didn’t believe everything she’s heard about healthcare reform from its critics.

“I think it’s just blatant lies. I know there’s no such thing as a death panel,” Mejía said.

The raging healthcare debate on Whidbey has not subsided since the massive town hall meeting in Coupeville last month hosted by U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen.

Earlier this week, the Whidbey Island Tea Party held a healthcare forum on the North End with a panel that featured state Rep. Barbara Bailey. And mailboxes across the South End this week have been stuffed with anti-reform mailers that warn of a “one-size-fits-all government scheme” and “massive Medicare cuts hitting seniors.” The four-page, full-color flyers were paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Wednesday’s protest in Bayview attracted people from as far away as Anacortes, although most were from South Whidbey. The crowd ranged in age from teenagers to people in their 80s, and included familiar faces such as author John Graham and former Seattle mayor Paul Schell.

The crowd also included healthcare workers, like Jeffrey LaGasse, a retired emergency room doctor from Clinton.

He refuted claims that government bureaucrats would get between doctors and their patients.

Insurance industry bureaucrats were already doing just that.

“The insurance companies get between us and the patients. It used to be a doctor-patient relationship. That is so 20th century,” he said. “It’s now a patient-insurance company relationship. And they view doctors as getting in the way and driving up costs.”

“They tie my hands as to what antibiotic I can give, what treatment I can give,” LaGasse added. “There are even gag rules that say you’re not allowed to tell people that a better option exists but their insurance company won’t pay for it. You talk about stuff that’s un-American.

“People are being limited in care and ... are dying every day because of these [insurance company] bureaucrats. And the CEOs are making $13 million to $14 million a year. I don’t know anybody who is worth that.”

LaGasse said he was frustrated, as well, that the calls for a public option were not being heard.

“I’m really frustrated. I call my legislators. I write, I’m an active and involved citizen in my democracy. But I don’t think anyone is listening. I’m getting very disillusioned; 75 percent of us want some sort of public option,” he said.

“I can’t believe that we’re here. I can’t believe people are talking about how much it will cost.

“In my mind, if you got rid of the 30 or 40 cents of every healthcare dollar that gets sucked into the black hole of insurance companies, we could cover 46 million, 47 million people. We don’t have to have any additional taxes.”

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