Lt. Governor and panel discuss healthcare debate at RIC forum

Elizabeth Roberts, Rhode Island Lt. Gov. and healthcare reform advocate, assured a crowd of students and faculty that the healthcare debate is still alive in congress, during an forum in Alger Hall on Feb. 3.

The healthcare forum, hosted by the School of Social Work, brought together three other state experts on the subject: Linda Katz, policy director and co-founder of the Poverty Institute; Peter Asen, interim executive director of Ocean State Action, a coalition of labor and community organizations for social and economic justice; and Amy Black, director of Health Right, an organization for healthcare reform.

Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts
The main topic of panel discussion was the healthcare bills passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate late last year. The panel urged the audience to be active and keep the debate alive by advocating within the local community.

In addition to panelists’ presentations, RIC Social Work student presented at the forum, offering statistics that support U.S. healthcare reform such as: average life expectancy in the U.S. is ranked 49th in the world; the world rankings for DPT3 and measles immunizations are 58th and 94th respectively; U.S. maternal mortality rates are 34th worldwide; and 48.6 percent of children under five are obese.

Linda Katz
According to Katz, 123,000 Rhode Islanders have no health insurance, a figure that has been rising since 2006 despite the state’s stagnant population growth. Black noted there is a link between rising unemployment in Rhode Island and increasing numbers of uninsured Rhode Islanders. Katz added that 121,000 of the people uninsured are under 65, the majority of whom are adults without children as they don’t qualify for the Medicaid program.

“In terms of healthcare you are better off in Rhode Island than most states,” said Roberts. “We have been a national leader in healthcare.”

Panelists highlighted Rhode Island’s strengths in healthcare, describing the state’s Medicaid system as “robust” and noting a high level of care for families with children and pregnant women through the Medicaid program. According to Black, Rhode Island ranks 11th nationally for quality and 11th statewide for accessibility of health-care.

Peter Asen
Asen, who discussed the details of the new bills at length, indicated they would extend coverage to 14-15 million adults, who are currently not eligible for Medicaid coverage because they don’t have children. The bills would also provide subsidies for those who have a low income but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. “This is not only about a moral imperative,” said Asen, “though that in itself is a reason for this to be done. It’s also an economic one.”

Ocean State Action gave students literature encouraging them to call their representatives and ask them to “finish healthcare reform right by improving the Senate bill to make coverage more affordable and hold insurers more accountable.”

Amy Black
“Healthcare should not be about rationing care but being rational,” said Black, who urged the audience to tell their stories to congressmen.

Black finished her presentation at the forum with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. who said “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”

“The biggest thing I wanted to leave with you today,” said panelist Asen, “is that despite what the newspapers say, healthcare reform will happen this year.”