Sept. 2009 KTA: Our Power in the Healthcare Debate: The Small Town Story

WHAT IS THE ACTIVITY? In September, our legislators wave goodbye to Oregon and fly back to Washington, DC to put their heads together and make decisions that will affect us all. In this moment, with the possibility of dramatic changes to our health care system, Human Dignity Groups play a crucial role in keeping our values at the forefront of our local and national debate.

This month’s Kitchen Table Activity is to find people in our communities that have a clear & unwavering message about why we need a health care system that we can believe in – and to carry these messages to our community, our local press, and all the way to Washington, DC. As you spread the stories locally, ROP will collect these stories and use our statewide power to collectively push for the change we need.

WHY THIS ACTIVITY? The biggest question our Senators and Representatives will address this year is, “What kind of health care system is best for this country?” To many progressives in rural Oregon, the answer is clear: people over profit + affordable care = Single Payer. But as we have learned this August, there is by no means consensus in our communities about solutions to the health care crisis. In fact many of our neighbors find that the right-wing message of fear really resonates, leading to terrified outbursts condemning a public option in health care & overshadowing the clear mandate for universal healthcare from the majority.
To get healthcare reform we must put the pressure on our electeds now. Yes, this means letters and phone calls to our Congresspeople in DC – but it means illustrating clearly what real reform would mean for your town. This is also a moment for bridge-building in our communities between the increasingly polarized voices on BOTH sides of the health care debate that shout their opinions and hold their talking points close. This September, let’s demonstrate the need for healthcare reform – making the connections between “hot button” issues and the harsh realities of rural small-town Oregon.

1. Share this KTA with your group – in your regular meeting, or by phone or email.

2. Pick 2 people from your community who have an honest story about the healthcare crisis and healthcare reform. Be sure to choose people that have a personal connection with health care, and who have a connection to your community. For example:

  • Nurses or health care professionals (nurses are the most trusted and respected of all professions, according to polling for the last 7 years! Find a nurse!)
  • An uninsured or underinsured community member; a working person suffering bankruptcy or debt from medical care
  • Somebody who has been denied benefits from their insurance company
  • A documented or undocumented immigrant (use an alias!) that works and pays taxes but is unable to access medical care

3. Decide who will collect stories. Make appointments with these folks, and make a coffee or tea date to write their stories down! If they’re comfortable with it, take a picture to submit as well.

4. Once you have the stories, edit them down to 150-300 words and submit them as Letters to the Editor of your local paper. Use the tag line “I am _________, and I support single payer. (See below for examples. Feel free to use these with your edits, or write your own.)

5. Send your stories, with photos, to ROP to include in a packet that will be sent to our Congresspeople at the end of the month calling on them to take corporate profits out of health care! ROP will also use the stories that you contribute to push the statewide media to take a closer look at the call for Single Payer health care.  Be sure to send these into us by September 25th at the latest so that we can get your stories in the mail and circulating!!

Every Letter to the Editor should include two main points:
  1. The main message that you want to get across, i.e. “I support Single Payer, which is a health insurance system in which the government pays all medical bills, financed by taxes, which replace premiums.” It’s important to have a definition of what you’re talking about in order to clarify and educate readers.
  2. The personal angle: the connection this issue has to the community where it is being published. How does the issue affect quality of life in the community? How are different people in the community experiencing this crisis?
Below are some examples that you can feel free to draw on, or use your own. ROP staff are always ready and willing to help out by editing or if you just want to bounce ideas off of us. Call 503-543-8417 or email

LTE Example #1:
I am a Roseburg nurse, and I support Single Payer.
I have worked as an ER nurse at Douglas County Medical Center for the last 15 years. I have employer-sponsored health insurance, but every day I see too much fallout from a broken health care system. Many folks that come to the emergency room for care are there as a last resort – they’re at a point where fear of the health emergencies they confront overcomes their fear of losing their home and long-term debt. Worse, the majority of these people are employed and just have the bad luck of working for one of Roseburg’s many employers that do no or cannot provide jobs with benefits.
It’s past time that we get our heads on straight and find a way to take care of our neighbors, here in Roseburg and in the rest of the country. We need a health care system that upholds our values! Single-payer is a health insurance system in which the government pays all medical bills, financed by taxes, which replace premiums. We need single payer.

LTE Example #2:
I live in Junction City, and I support Single Payer
I recently interviewed a few of my neighbors as part of a Rural Organizing Project Kitchen Table Activity. The activity encourages people who live in rural and small-town Oregon to talk with friends and neighbors, and to have a community dialogue about an issue that can be polarizing, but that we desperately need to resolve for the future of our country . . . health care.
I spoke with a Junction City couple in their mid forties with a six year-old child.  The husband was laid off from an RV manufacturing job in December and has been collecting unemployment.  The wife has a part-time job running an office for a roofing company. Since the husband was laid off, they have had no health insurance.
They recently applied for the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) and SCHIP for the child, but were told they made too much money to qualify — $76 too much for SCHIP.  In January the state will expand OHP and SCHIP, with negotiated taxes on insurance companies and hospitals, and then maybe this family will be able to qualify, but we don’t know if that will be the case.
This level of insecurity in our community is not acceptable! We need a solution that will give everybody access to health care. Why does this basic part of American values seem so hard to achieve? A public option is the way to ensure care for all, over health care industry profits. Single-payer is a health insurance system in which the government pays all medical bills, financed by taxes, which replace premiums. That’s why I support single payer