Protesters Rally At Health Industry Conference
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Here in Washington today, there was a protest over the health care overhaul. The demonstrators gathered not in front of the White House or the Capitol, but in front of a hotel on K Street. Why? Because that's where a powerful group of major health insurers is holding a conference.
NPR's Andrea Seabrook took in the scene.
ANDREA SEABROOK: Washington hotels are always busy with conferences, but today, the Capitol Hilton had dueling advocacy groups inside. Down one plush hallway was the trade group AHIP, America's Health Insurance Plans. Their section was cordoned off with security checkpoints. At the other end of the hall: HCAN, Health Care for America Now, a coalition of labor and left-leaning groups pushing health reform. They were holding a press conference with people who say they've been victims of bad health insurance policies like Courtney Atnip(ph) from Tennessee.
Ms. COURTNEY ATNIP: I'm just tired of health insurance dictating your quality of life.
SEABROOK: Atnip has Crohn's Disease. It's a chronic disorder of the intestines. Her doctor wanted to increase her dose of a medication that was preventing the disease from flaring up, but her health insurer deemed the drug medically unnecessary and cancelled the prescription altogether. She went for a month without it.
Ms. ATNIP: In January, they re-instated the medication, but it was too late. I was already getting really sick. May 1st, I had massive surgery at Vanderbilt Hospital that cost upwards of $750,000.
SEABROOK: Also, here's Kevin Scott. He's got a scar that runs clear over the top of his head.
Mr. KEVIN SCOTT: It's brain cancer, a brain tumor, and I can't pronounce the correct term, the medical term, but it was the same one that Ted Kennedy had.
SEABROOK: Scott says he's actually grateful that his insurance paid for his brain surgery, but now that he's in chemotherapy and radiation, he says he feels like he's being nickled and dimed.
Mr. SCOTT: When I had radiation treatment, I had some skin irritations. So I went to see a dermatologist about that. They won't cover that.
SEABROOK: His insurance company is now fighting every little thing he needs, says Scott.
Mr. SCOTT: We got letters in the mail saying, denied, denied, denied.
SEABROOK: It's not an accident that these people are in the same hotel as the health insurance lobbyists. They were hoping to confront the insurers with their problems or at least get some media attention for their cause.
Outside the hotel and down the street a couple blocks, Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, rallied a crowd sporting union T-shirts and waving signs. They say the enemy in their fight is the insurance companies and their lobbyists.
Mr. RICHARD TRUMKA (President, AFL-CIO): …who are huddled together just around the corner over there, plotting how they can continue to block or to weaken health care reform. I have a simple question: Are we going to let them do that?
Unidentified People: No.
SEABROOK: The protestors marched down the street and began to picket the hotel. They paraded in two long ovals the length of a city block. I asked Paul Price(ph), why here?
Mr. PAUL PRICE: Follow the dollars.
SEABROOK: Price works for a construction union and says it's not enough to protest at the Capitol.
Mr. PRICE: Politicians absolutely need to make the right decisions, but these folks are the ones funding the politicians.
SEABROOK: Another union activist, Linda Foley(ph), says the point is to try to get the insurance industry to back off.
Ms. LINDA FOLEY (Union Activist): This is about people, not profits. It's not about their profits, it's about the people out here on the street. So we thought it was important to bring this message to them at their meeting here in Washington.
SEABROOK: No one in the insurance industry group was interested in commenting on the protest, including their spokesperson.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.
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