A Ramona couple who went to Washington, D.C., to lobby for health care reform got an eyeful of the city’s famous sights and gave an earful, as promised, to three of California’s representatives.
As first-time visitors to the nation’s capital, Reynaldo and Janet Hernandez were wowed to see firsthand the monuments that they’ve seen on television so many times.
“It was awe-inspiring to see things like the Lincoln Memorial in person,” Reynaldo said. “We were amazed to see how many young people were there; however, as seniors, I think we appreciated it more, but it was wonderful to see how respectful and almost reverent people are toward our nation’s treasures.”
Their time for sight-seeing was limited because they were brought there by Consumer’s Union to provide lawmakers with “a real face of ordinary citizens, to show how we’re suffering” under the existing health care scenario. Although the couple spent 40 years selling insurance, they had to go without health insurance for nine months when their premiums escalated to $1,500 a month. Reynaldo now qualifies for Medicare, but Janet’s health care costs them almost $900 a month.
They got their best chance to speak their minds when they were granted a face-to-face meeting with first-term Rep. Duncan D. Hunter.
“I was impressed that he gave us the time, probably 30 minutes, to really discuss the issues,” Reynaldo said. “There’s a lot he doesn’t understand because he’s new, but we felt he was very sincere about doing what’s right, and he wants to continue our dialogue via e-mail.
“We really hit it off because of our military connection. He was a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and I did two tours with the Air Force in Vietnam.”
Reynaldo strongly agreed with Hunter’s point that people need to become more accountable for their own health.
“You reap what you sow. If your body is falling apart, you probably have no one to blame but yourself,” Reynaldo said, expressing concern about the loss of exercise programs in schools and the increase in childhood diabetes. “I remember when I was 19, my dad used to say that ‘God only gives you one body so you have to take care of it.’ ”
The Hernandezes also spent time with legislative assistants for Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer. He called Boxer a “champion of reform who has led the fight for different issues and is very supportive of helping the system change.”
The couple also found it interesting to hear the stories of other folks brought to Washington by Consumer’s Union, and they found that there are others much worse off than they are.
“We met one woman in her 30s who is intelligent with a master’s degree, and she bought insurance that she thought was good and the price wasn’t bad—$120 a month. But then she got really sick with breast cancer and ended up $40,000 in debt. She survived, but she still owes $30,000. It’s hard for even intelligent people to know what they are buying.
“Health insurance contracts should be written in simple eighth-grade English so people can understand what’s covered and what isn’t. For example, if you buy a toaster, it comes with a warranty, and if it breaks, you know what’s covered. People go buy a health policy, get sick, and find out it’s not what they thought they bought. There has to be national standards in some areas.”
The Hernandezes also attended a meeting held by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports health care reform. They learned that the fund is doing a study about the effectiveness of drugs and intends to pass this information on to doctors “because they get too much of their information about drugs from drug salesmen.”
However, after what they saw and heard in Washington, they are concerned that, if health reform doesn’t pass this year, it probably won’t happen.
“There are forces starting to gather, up and down the aisle, that like the status quo and don’t want to see new regulations,” Reynaldo said, but the trip has motivated both of them to become more active and vocal.
“The problem is that it’s hard for ordinary citizens to get their voices heard,” he said. “Are the politicians in Washington going to listen to us or to the drug companies and lobbyists for the insurance industry who come in with bags of money? But we have to continue to try or the system will become more and more broken and more and more people like us will fall through the cracks.”