Young People for Health Care Reform

I know the opinions on Health Care Reform are wide spread. So, before I jump into my post, I want to quote Bill Moyers from his interview on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher this Friday, August 28th, 2009. I hope we can all agree that money should “not decide who lives and who dies.”

“I find it hard to understand why this country has not embraced this notion of Health Care as a common human need to which everyone should have access of, regardless of economic resources. … we are the only western democracy that has not embraced Universal Health Care as a means of social justice. Our Health Care system is run by the drug industry, the health insurance industry and Wall Street– which means a relative handful of unaccountable executives and anonymous investors whose primary interest is in increasing the value of the company share and raising profits. That’s their interest. Now that’s a good business model, because it’s made a lot of money for the people who run those industries (Wall Street, drugs, and health insurance). But it’s not the way we should decide who lives and who dies, and who suffers and who gets well… that’s just not the way.”
~Bill Moyers

(For now, you can watch the show here, here, and here and Glen Greenwald wrote a great article on it)

On Wednesday, August 26th, I spoke at a Press Conference in the Capitol Building, in Washington D.C. Along with Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and speakers from Rock the Vote, US Students Association, and YouthBuild USA, we addressed how Health Care Reform is vital to young Americans. How did I end up speaking with these people? I don’t work or volunteer for any Health Care advocacy group… It could be the most random story of my life.

On Sunday (one week ago from yesterday), my friend Dave DeLuca was talking to his friend Sujatha Jahagirdar. Sujatha works for CALPIRG and was looking for a young person (ideally 26 or younger) who had issues with our current health care system. Dave passed along my story and my phone number. Sujatha and I spoke that night, and although I was a little past their ideal age, they decided to fly me to DC to share my story to help “put a face on the health care debate.”

On Monday, they bought me a ticket. On Tuesday, I flew to D.C. I surprised my sister by just showing up at dinner (where she immediately started screaming and jumping up and down). That night, I couldn’t sleep. I was running through what I was going to say over and over again.

Wednesday morning finally rolls around, and with 3 hours of sleep under my belt, my sister and I head out to the USPIRG office near the Capitol. I meet with Gary Kalman, the U.S. PRIG D.C. Office Director, who runs over what will be happening through out the day. Gary has me deliver my speech to him, and I’m worried he’s going to want me to change things here and there. My nervousness fades as he says, “if you do it half as good as that, you’re going to do great.”

We walk to The Capitol where I meet Tom Monatos, Assistant to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. He gives me (and my sister!) and the other three speakers a quick tour of Pelosi’s office, including the “best view in D.C” (if you saw my tweet).

View from Nancy Pelosi’s office.

Tom keeps coming into the waiting room saying “the New York Times is here! CNN is here!” and I just keep taking deep breaths to stop myself from vomiting. I haven’t spoken in public since… well, probably since I played Hope Harcourt in my senior high school’s play of Anything Goes.

Heather & I sneaking a picture in Pelosi’s office.

Tom (and his team of people) lead us into the press conference (room H-122, The Speakers Dining Room). It’s filled with video cameras, still photogs, and tons of journalists with pens and your typical reporter pads of paper. My sister gets a seat in the third row.

Van Hollen introduces everyone, and after Thomas Bates from Rock the Vote speaks, I go up and share my story. I am shaking; and although part of it’s from nervousness, some is just because my story is actually quite sad. I almost start to cry at one point. But I get through it, and finish with a “thank you for having me.”

I needed a stool! Can you say short much?

I looked at my sister who gives me a teary-eyed thumbs up. After the press conference, I am ushered into another room for a phone conference for newspapers around the country. We do the same thing, except this time I read my speech instead of saying it from the top of my head.

Thomas Bates, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Abby Berendt Lavoi

Afterwards, there is a quick photo shoot with myself, Rep. Van Hollen, and Thomas all standing awkwardly in front of a portrait of Lincoln. We say our goodbyes, and Tom gives my sister and me a nice tour of the Capitol (complete with a sneak look into the senate chambers). He bids us farewell, my sister and I eat Subway for lunch, and I head over to The White House for a briefing on Health Care and Young People.


Overall, a whirlwind experience– one that I will never forget. My h
ope is that people who hear my story will understand that Health Care Reform is necessary. Young people, old people, it affects us all. Obviously, those who aren’t insured need some options (most people really do want insurance but can’t afford the high cost), but even those who are insured need help. Premiums, co-payments, and overall bills are sky high– so much so that sometimes having insurance doesn’t matter (if you still can’t afford to pay these costs).

Many people are saying that Obama’s young supporters have been silent on this issue; and although I don’t know anyone who wants to get yelled at by grandpa at a townhall meeting, I do know many people who support reform. It’s a tough issue (who has time to read the 1,000 page document?), and with lies, misinformation, and insurance companies spending millions in advertising, it’s hard to sift through and focus on reality. But this debate has been going on for decades, and it’s time we fix the system before it’s too late.

Kim Geiger from the LA Times wrote about my story, the press conference, and how Health Care Reform affects young people.
The extended version ran in the Chicago Tribune.
The shortened version ran in the LA Times.

Dave Getzschman / For The Times / August 27, 2009

One Response to “Young People for Health Care Reform”

  1. lo says:

    Go Abby! You are awesome! Cool fashion shots too. I am proud to tell people that I know you well enough to occasionally visit your home and drink down your wine. Keep up the good work.

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