HCAN Protests AHIP

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A dispatch from TIME’s Sophia Yan:

“Congress, We Are Watching You!” was scrawled across handmade signs, bobbing above the heads of the few hundred rallied by Health Care for America Now to show support for a public option. “We need a public option, not a stock option,” shouted one woman.  Some came out to support family members and friends who were without health care or struggled with their current policies, and others came for themselves.  Ryan Canney, 31, said his father-in-law, a small business owner, was constantly struggling to provide health care for his employees.  Amanda Reed, 21, a soon-to-be college graduate, will “be looking for my own insurance.”

Gathered outside the Capital Hilton downtown yesterday where America’s Health Insurance Plans was holding its 14th annual conference, the rally was staged to grab the attention of AHIP’s President and CEO Karen Ignagni.  HCAN says she has no clue how her work lobbying for insurance companies has hurt other Americans.

But before any rallying cries could be heard, HCAN presented to reporters a panel of individuals with distressing stories of being kicked to the curb by their insurance companies. Kevin Scott, 40, of San Jose, CA, was diagnosed with a brain tumor December of last year and part of his necessary treatments were not covered by his plan.  Thousands of dollars in debt later, Kevin is a model HCAN supporter of the public option, which he believes would have helped his situation. “If you’re sick with an expensive condition, your insurance company will do everything it can to avoid paying your care to drive you to bankruptcy,” HCAN’s national campaign manager Richard Kirsch told TIME.

Congressman Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, consoled members of the panel and thanked them for telling their stories publicly. Doyle said he plans to introduce the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act – public option included – in early November (this would be separate from the bill House leaders are working on).  “We’re trying to insure every American,” he said. “And to also reform the health insurance industry so they can’t discriminate.”  He’s “confident” that there will be the 218 votes needed to pass.  In coming weeks, “I think you’re going to see the President weigh in in a big way.”

Though impassioned, the rally lasted only 30 minutes, however, as DC police stepped in to disperse the crowd spilling from the sidewalk into the middle of 16th St. NW.