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Seeking health rights 

More than half of the nation's 44.6 million uninsured don't earn enough to pay for health insurance, according to a recent report in the American Hospital Association News. And they're not eligible for coverage through public programs.

In New YorkState, about 415,000 children have no health-care coverage, according to the Children's Defense Fund's November 2006 report. About 70 percent of them are eligible for publicly funded health-care programs but aren't enrolled in them, because their parents don't know they're eligible or don't know how to get the services. About 116,000 New York children aren't eligible for the public programs.

Those are just some of the indications, leaders of two local activist groups say, that the nation's health-care system is broken. The Interfaith Health Care Coalition and the Alliance for Democracy are organizing a local observance of International Human Rights Day on December 11, and they're making health-care reform the focus.

The 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, include the right to liberty, to equal pay for equal work, to marriage entered under free will, to property ownership, and to peaceful assembly. And Article 25 refers to the right to health and well-being.

"We are spending more on health care than any other industrialized nation in the world, but we are doing a terrible job of providing quality care for all Americans," says Sr. Beth LeValley of the Interfaith Health Care Coalition.

Both LeValley's group and the Alliance for Democracy advocate a single-payer, universal-care system. Mary Boite, an activist with the Alliance, says that as a Canadian, she is amazed that the US has allowed its health-care system to become a national crisis.

"Canadians find it a little amusing that US politicians have convinced the public that the costs of health care shouldn't be a shared responsibility," she says. "Yet the public shares the cost of providing coverage for politicians. But Americans who lose their jobs often lose their coverage. Middle-class families are going broke over a surgery or a serious illness. In Canada, we just don't have any of that."

The business community has done an excellent job of explaining the impact of rising health-insurance costs on their companies, says LeValley. But, she says, the answer is not to shift the expense from businesses to employees. Patchwork responses aren't working, says LeValley, because hospital emergency rooms are left with charity care and bad debt.

The Interfaith Health Care Coalition meets at St. Joseph's NeighborhoodCenter, where its executive director, Sr. Chris Wagner, says lack of access to health care is not limited to the urban poor. She has seen an increase in people coming from Pittsford, Penfield, and Hilton to receive care at St. Joseph's, she says.

The Interfaith Health Care Coalition has called for a state commission to oversee an analysis of the best way to deliver health care for all New Yorkers. And the coalition wants Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer to fulfill two campaign pledges: providing coverage for all of New York's children and making coverage more affordable.

The public should also recognize that society pays a price for neglecting health care, says LeValley. "A system that has such high barriers for so many people in our society means a huge number of us are trying to manage our lives with poor health," she says. "If you are not taking medications because you can't afford them, you're not going to be a productive worker. This is not just about health care. It overlaps employment and education, too."

To commemorate the anniversary of International Human Rights Day, the Alliance for Democracy will hold a rally with Crowne Plaza Hotel workers, who have been struggling to form a union, at 4:30 p.m. Monday, December 11, at SisterCitiesBridge downtown. The rally will be followed by a potluck dinner at 5:30 p.m. at Downtown Presbyterian Church, 121 North Fitzhugh Street.

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