Congresswoman tours free medical clinic in Oakland

April 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
It happened Sunday night and it's expected again on Monday evening in Oakland -- thousands of people waiting in line for a chance to see a doctor for free. Those involved in the health care debate say there is no better sign of the need for reform.

"It tells me perhaps they're overlooking something they need to pay attention to," said Remote Area Medical founder Stan Brock.

The need for health care is the most glaring issue they want public leaders to see. Kendra Watkins got in line at 10 p.m. Sunday night for the opportunity to receive a free dental exam.

"I am happy. I have my teeth fixed, no more gap in my front tooth -- you can't tell," said Watkins.

The battle over health care spending has no more dramatic backdrop than what's been happening for the past three nights at the Oakland Coliseum. Inside the halls of the Oakland A's stadium, volunteers have set up a dental clinic, an eye clinic, and a general medicine center.

"We were here last night at 10 o'clock," said Liliana Azzolini. She came here from Manteca and traveled 60 miles to wait all night. "Because... I don't have health insurance, so I need to see a doctor and then a dentist, too," said Azzolini.

Azzolini is a part-time hair stylist. She said it's been a year since she's seen a dentist or a doctor. A total of 3,000 people will be seen by volunteers before the clinic wraps up and moves on Tuesday night. The clinic saw about 3,500 in Sacramento.

This is the 640th free health care clinic the Remote Area Medical organization has held. Yet Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, is only the third member of Congress to visit one.

"It really highlights the need for universal health care," said Lee, who found the stories humbling. "While I'm happy that people are here and RAM is here, I'm very sad that our government hasn't stepped up to the plate and provided health care for all, which every other industrialized country has done."

Lee toured the temporary clinic Monday saying Republicans in the House or Representatives should take a look at how many people are in need. But Republicans in the House say they want cuts to health care or they'll refuse to raise the debt ceiling, causing the U.S. to default on its loans.

"There will not be an increase in the debt limit without something really, really big attached to it," said Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio.

The Chair of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has laid out a plan to replace Medicare with subsidies to the elderly so they could buy their own health insurance.

"It's pretty clear that Rep. Ryan's proposal is the first shot across the bow," said ABC7's political analyst Bruce Cain, Ph.D.

Cain said Republicans know Ryan's plan won't get passed, but they're staking out their position.

"Of course the fear on the part of many Democrats is that Obama will move towards Ryan more than Ryan will move towards Obama," said Cain.

For Azzolini the debate is depressing.

"It's really sad we're having all these arguments, all these discussions. It seems like they don't care about people really. So basically, I don't know, be more human," said Azzolini.

RAM organizers also want to highlight the volunteer shortage. They have 89 dentist chairs at the Oakland Coliseum, yet only 38 dentists. The problem is doctors can't cross state lines; to practice in California you have to have a California license. Lee is aware of the problem and even brought students from the Treasure Island Job Corps to volunteer on Monday.

"It is a state issue, but we know how to make sure the volunteers are recruited and people are provided with health care that they deserve," said Lee.

Patients and volunteers were delighted to see Lee; they just hope it translates into change.

"I want her to do more about our health care in the Bay Area, because we don't have any dental. We do have a few programs, but it's not enough," said Watkins.

On Wednesday, the president will deliver a speech on his budget plan. Monday night another line will form outside the Oakland A's stadium. Those hoping to see a doctor on the final day of the free clinic are being told to be in line by midnight.


Load Comments