Special Informal Hearing: "Costs of Broken Health Care System, Benefits of Public Option"

Testimony of Natalie Noel, Documentary film producer

Special to News From Indian Country
Washington, D.C.  10/09

On October 27th, prominent members of the House of Representatives held a unique Town Hall-style hearing entitled: Cost of Broken Health Care System, Benefits of Public Option."
 
 

Members and witnesses were there to consider H.R. 3200, America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. The bill would provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending.

This is part of a series of citizen Congressional hearings until reform is passed, according to a committee of congressional hosts led by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). "The hearings," they said, "are to allow the voice of the American people who want a strong public option to be heard in the halls of Congress - voices that have been drowned out by insurance company propaganda, and disruptive tea-baggers at health reform town hall meetings."

Natalie Noel, a Native American from Alabama and documentary film producer shares her speech she gave as a witness during this hearing.


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Natalie's speech:
Representative Jackson Lee, Chairman Conyers and other distinguished hosts: I am Natalie Noel, a journalist with News From Indian Country. Also, I'm an independent filmmaker and a breast cancer survivor.  Thank you for inviting me to be part of this incredibly important Town Hall hearing about our country's broken health care system.

As a Native of Mobile, Alabama, I am humbled and proud that the Rev. Walter Fauntroy was among the planning leaders for today's meeting. Thank you, Reverend Fauntroy for your lifetime of civil rights service, including organizing the historic 1963 civil rights March on Washington and the 1965 marches in Selma that prompted such change in our nation's civil rights laws. Those marches provided the spiritual models of today's focus on health care as a basic civil right.

Introduction of documentary film: REINVENTING PARADISE
Since August 2007, Robert Corsini of Aboriginal Media and I have been co-producing REINVENTING PARADISE. This heart-wrenching documentary tells the dramatic stories of Gulf Coast residents who have suffered unimaginable hardships in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina - people who, with great strength of spirit and inspiring self-determination, are struggling to rebuild their lives, homes and communities. Many of these people are also faced with physical and psychological problems, and have little or no access to care. Robert wrote a column for Truthout.org about this:

"In New Orleans post-Katrina, the capacity to deliver health care for the poor and displaced, independent of who's paying the bill has simply vanished... Nearly 40% of the overall population and 70% of the African American population in New Orleans are uninsured. So people are literally walking the streets in prolonged states of 'shell shock' with few places to go for help....

"The fact that much of the nation continues as if everything is just fine in New Orleans can only be described as dangerously delusional. The broader national debate on health care has completely overlooked the unfolding catastrophe directly in front of the nation's eyes. Why has the media consistently failed to report on these issues?.. Today, although the bleeding has stopped and recovery is underway, there is a clear, underlying malaise that grips the region from New Orleans, to Gulfport/Biloxi, to Mobile, Alabama."

Healthcare as a civil right:
But it's not simply the Gulf Coast at risk. We should anticipate similar breakdowns elsewhere. The U.S. relies heavily on an employer-based, for-profit healthcare system that is thinly regulated at a time when millions have lost their jobs.

As the Rev. Fauntroy said recently, "From every poll, it's clear that the people want an end to the tyranny of insurance companies. Insurers tyrannize doctors.  They tyrannize patients."

I don't want to demonize the insurers or those who work for them. They saved my life, as I'll describe shortly. But the U.S. uses the only system among industrialized nations that relies on for-profit companies operating with minimum regulation. So, insurers have heavy incentives to discard the sick who most need care, and to maintain their profit levels by passing on new burdens to already overburdened consumers. For the good of our country, the government must address such problems head-on.

The opinion polls cited by Rev. Fauntroy illustrate that voters are fully capable of understanding what's in our best interests in terms of "Big Picture" health policy. And ultimately, we as consumers will remember which elected officials stood with us during this time of "reform."

For all these reasons, I urge your support of a strong public option as a compromise to the best obvious solution of single-payer. Public option and single-payer solutions are used by other industrialized nations at half or less than half the total costs of our current system, with results at least as good. So, I hope you'll vote "No!" to any "reform" that doesn't include a strong public option that would be available promptly throughout the country.

My story, in brief:
In 2007 shortly after I began work on "Reinventing Paradise," I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. I was suddenly hearing surgeons recommend an immediate mastectomy. At the time, I had private insurance with Alabama's dominant carrier, and a comfortable apartment in Mobile. Soon, I was undergoing multiple surgeries, several courses of chemotherapy, radiation and experiencing pain that I cannot begin to describe. Unable to work, I lost my hair, my apartment and found myself marginalized, humiliated, hopeless. My insurance was cancelled - thankfully after covering my first year or so of treatment, but my medical bills continue to pile up to this day.

I began crawling back to "life" with the help of my former business partner, John Prince, and the support of friends and family.

I recently moved to Pennsylvania, where I am able to receive the physical therapy necessary to complete my healing because of the public medical assistance programs they have in place. There are many others facing the challenges that I endured.

The Question?
Before sharing a clip from the film, kindly let me ask each one of you, right now, to look into your heart and try to answer this question: What would happen if you were suddenly struck by your own personal Katrina? What would happen to you, if you woke up to find the "levees" had broken and you were wading through filthy waters surrounded by the shambles of everything that had once kept you safe, secure and comfortable? What if you were diagnosed, today, with a potentially fatal disease? Might you lose your health, your private health insurance, your home, your independence, your dignity, your life?

Sadly, the answer is "Yes" to such questions. We as a nation provided aid to the Gulf. But drought, fires and unemployment exist in so many other places. Their residents might become one of the muttering, homeless sick who increasingly stumble through the streets right now in our cities and towns. With one catastrophe, so many of us could be in such a position.

Thanks for your attention today and the privilege of appearing here before you.

 

Congressman John Conyers delivers rare private speech in
his chambers on the new Health Care Revolution

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