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Why I Support Health Care Reform

A lifelong Republican says the status quo has got to go

by Pam Bredberg

Pam Bredberg (right) and fellow MEA-MFT member Joyce Herbeck rally for health care reform in Belgrade, Montana.

 As a veteran public school educator—I’ve taught over 30 years as a speech therapist, Title I reading and math teacher and a second grade teacher in Bozeman, Montana—I see the urgent need for health care reform every day. The recession has walloped families in Montana, making health coverage—already way too expensive — out of reach. Many of our children are from families that have had to make cutbacks and, unfortunately, health coverage is simply not affordable. More than anyone, children are the victims. And any teacher, young or old, will tell you the same thing: our students cannot learn in school if they do not have adequate access to health care.

Now, I don’t claim to be an “authority” on health care reform. The issue is extremely complicated and figuring out exactly what needs to be done is no easy task. I personally believe that reform should be affordable to everyone, health benefits should not be taxed, and that some sort of public option—one that will promote competition and help take a bite out of the spiraling costs—is necessary. But how can anyone look around at their schools and communities and not agree that something has to be done. Now.

The goal of making quality health care more affordable for all Americans shouldn’t belong to one political party. I am a lifelong Republican and I strongly support President Obama’s efforts.

In that spirit, I joined my fellow MEA-MFT members from across the state and hundreds of others at a rally in Belgrade on August 14. Montana has been in the spotlight during this debate because one of our senators, Max Baucus, is chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and President Obama visited the state to hold a town hall meeting, which included MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver. We gathered about a mile away to voice our support for accessible, quality, affordable health care for all.

We chanted “Hey ho, hey ho, the status quo has got to go!” but not everyone agreed with us. You’ve probably seen news reports of health care rallies across the country being overrun by angry anti-Obama mobs, “tea party” activists, turning what should be civilized events into borderline chaos. I wish I could report that the Tea Partiers took a breather at the rally in Belgrade. Unfortunately, a small but vocal gaggle was out in force. And yes, they were as rude, confrontational, and radical as you might expect.

The pro-reform activists chose not to trade insults or even engage them. How can you have a dialogue or a civil debate with someone who believes the government wants to kill our elderly? Or who compares President Obama with Adolf Hitler? One protester walked up to a woman and said, in all seriousness that, if President Obama got his way, the federal government was going to dictate to us what we could and couldn’t eat.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to debate. But you cannot reason with these people. I let them talk and then I walk away. But I can't help but wonder, “What on earth are these people thinking?”

They might call themselves Republicans, but the Republican Party that I grew up with was not so extreme, so gripped by fear and paranoia. And despite their incendiary signs and chants, I am proud of our local TV news crew’s choice not to focus on the tea party activists, going so far as cutting their obnoxious signs out of the frame as they interviewed pro-reform participants.

Overall, however, the rally was an awesome experience. Our group was united, civil, and succeeded in communicating a positive message of reform.

Congress continues to work on a health care reform bill, so the voices of educators everywhere still need to be heard. Ignore all the frenzy over death panels and “socialism.” Despite some of the loud and unruly voices out there, there are a lot more reasonable people who will listen. It’s ok to disagree on some of the fine print, but we all—especially us in the education field—have an obligation to contribute constructively to the dialogue. The issue is simply about making health care affordable for working families across the country. Why would anyone not want to fight for that?

Pam Bredberg teaches at Irving Elementary School in Bozeman, Montana

For more information about NEA's position, visit Health Care for All.

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Urge the U.S. Senate to support a public option amd oppose the taxation in health insurance reform

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NEA is a member of Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a national grassroots campaign of more than 850 organizations dedicated to winning quality, affordable health care. Find out more about HCAN here.

NEA is also a member of the National Coalition on Health Care.