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Leaders' health care efforts graded

A Buffalo-area advocacy group released a report card Thursday grading state leaders on their efforts to accomplish health care reform.

"We need the will and a plan to get it done," said Terri Schelter, chairwoman of Western New York Health Care Campaign.

The organization is a coalition of groups -- including the American Cancer Society, Communication Workers of America, and Citizen Action -- that support more affordable and accessible health care.

The group's second report card grades State Senate and Assembly members on how strongly they have worked to support legislative measures important to the coalition, including expanding enrollment in public insurance programs, improving access to prescription drugs, reinstating rate hearings for private health insurers and promoting reforms that provide health coverage for all individuals.

Assemblyman Jim Hayes, R-Amherst, received the lowest score. Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples, D-Buffalo, did the best, although the group found few legislators supporting its goals as much as it would like.

"We need legislators that truly believe that health care is a right and not a privilege for those that can afford it," Schelter said.

Vicki Dankanich of Buffalo, holding her baby, spoke on behalf of the effort at a news conference downtown. She said her family health bills doubled when her husband took on a new job that offered less insurance coverage, after he was laid off from a previous job.

"It forced me to go back to work just to pay for health care," she said.

Dr. David Holmes, a family physician, said he sees many uninsured patients whose inability to pay for health care leads to illnesses and premature deaths.

He described a "crazy system" in which many working individuals don't make enough money to afford health insurance or health care, encouraging them to quit working and depend on Medicaid, the government health program for the poor.

"We disincentivize people to go back to work," he said.

Coalition officials said the report card is intended to influence voters in November's general election.

"There is something we can all do," said Abbey Bernardis, a representative of the League of Women Voters. "Vote for candidates that support quality, affordable health care for all."

The coalition will post the report on its Web site, www.wnyhcc.org.

e-mail: hdavis@buffnews.com

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