- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Their stories of health care heartbreak were so gut-wrenching and compelling, so the theory went, surely policy would change.

The year was 1993, and instead of leading to a sweeping overhaul of the health care system that the young new Democratic president had promised, those stories are now artifacts in an ex-president’s library, a testament to a monumental, failed effort.

As another Democratic president tackles the issue, President Obama’s team is going after those same stories of tears, loss and a health care system gone wrong that President Bill Clinton and his aides once employed.

At a town-hall meeting in Green Bay, Wis., last week, Laura Klitzka introduced the president by telling her story — her breast cancer spread to her bones and the family medical bills have piled so high they are struggling financially.

Mr. Obama said her story was “incredibly moving,” but “sadly, it’s not unique.”

“All it takes is a single illness to wipe out a lifetime of savings,” the president said, going on to make his case for a strong reform bill. He would cite Mrs. Klitzka’s case again Monday in pitching his health reform plan to a gathering in Chicago of the American Medical Association.

The stories don’t end there.

Michelle Winter, also of Green Bay, told the former Obama campaign arm now called Organizing for America (OFA) that she worries her rising health care insurance premium could sink her local jewelry shop and art gallery. After her business partner developed diabetes, their insurance skyrocketed to $1,368, with a $5,000 deductible, a deductible equal to $5,000 loan they used to start the business in 1991.

A Democratic official said more than 100,000 such stories have poured in, telling their sad tales in hopes of sparking change.

The OFA project aims to duplicate the success of the Obama presidential campaign last fall — the philosophy that “neighbors talking to neighbors, folks talking to family and friends creates effective meaningful change,” a Democratic official said.

“By sharing powerful stories we’re able to convey the urgency that exists to get health care reform done this year with elected officials and the public,” the official said.

But the effort has yet to show how the impact of Ms. Winter’s story differs from that of Carol Andrews.

Her story — colon cancer at the age of 33 — is one of hundreds showcased in the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark. The library estimates there is more than 350 cubic feet of letters sent to the Clinton Health Care Task Force, most of those still awaiting processing.

Mr. Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton are “powerful voices for change” on health care, another person wrote along with their tale recounting tough times.

Another woman lamented the failed 1993-94 effort, writing the White House, “It would have really helped people in this country.”

Mr. Clinton credits his wife, now secretary of state for Mr. Obama, with starting the fight.

“Some day America will join the rest of the advanced world with a decent comprehensive health care system and when they do, Hillary will deserve a lot of the credit,” Mr. Clinton says in a recorded tour of the library.

The letters contain personal health care stories and opinions and suggestions regarding health care reform, according to Dana Simmons, supervisory archivist at the library.

Even though those stories could not convince Congress it was time to act, the Obama administration is taking much the same approach, collecting as many tales as possible through the grass-roots work of OFA.

The group announced Monday a new “summer organizer” program to push Mr. Obama’s three principles for health care reform: cutting costs; ensuring a choice of doctors and plans; and affordable care for all Americans.

The marquee event will be June 27 when the group participates in the “Health Care Day of Service.”

OFA noted Mr. Obama’s promise to move quickly since “Americans cannot afford to wait another year for health care reform.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs the stories offer “vivid examples of the problems that Americans face and what they want addressed through this legislation.”

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