By way of a personal story about the costs of births in two generations of his family, Andrew Young endorsed “Obamacare” at a fundraising event for the Bulloch County Democratic Party.
Before he finished speaking Saturday at the Second Annual Independence Gala, Young also endorsed Congressman John Barrow, D-Ga., for re-election. About 160 people attended, paying $50 each for the banquet and $25 extra for the opportunity to meet Young at a reception.
After serving as an aid to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, Young in 1972 became the first African-American elected to Congress from Georgia in a century. He was appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 and served two terms as mayor of Atlanta, from 1982 until 1990.
Now 80, Young travels the world on projects of the Andrew Young Foundation and Good Works International. But for a personal anecdote about health care costs, the Louisiana-born Young reached back to his first arrival in Georgia, as a young pastor of two tiny churches in the Thomasville area in 1954. When his first child was born at Thomasville’s Archbold Memorial Hospital, a $50 deposit was required.
After his daughter was born, the hospital refunded him $18 because the birth had been without complications, Young recalled.
“So my daughter, born in 1955, cost me $32,” he said.
Young credited this low-cost medical care to the Hill-Burton Act. The 1946 law, sponsored by Sen. Harold Burton of Ohio and Sen. Lister Hill of Alabama, provided grants and guaranteed loans to states and municipalities for construction and expansion of hospitals.
“Lister Hill was a very conservative Alabama Democrat, and Lister Hill was from the country and he just believed that folk in the country needed good health care too,” Young said.
For contrast, he skipped forward to the birth of his latest grandchild, Andrew Jackson Young IV, whose christening Young had attended Saturday morning. After his son moved from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to Atlanta, he switched his Alabama BlueCross BlueShield coverage to BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia and was told that his wife’s pregnancy would not be covered because it was a pre-existing condition, Young said.
This, he said, resulted in a $9,000 out-of-pocket cost for his son and daughter-in-law, after they had paid for health insurance in Alabama the past four years.
“Now all of that’s changed,” Young said. “Now, I don’t know what they call it — they say it’s Obamacare — but you know what it means? It means that they can no longer turn you down for something called a pre-existing condition.”
Speaking in the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center at Georgia Southern University, he noted that another provision of the Affordable Care Act lets young people remain on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. Without that, he said, college students caught between high tuition and health insurance costs “are in real trouble.”
Young had just discussed the Affordable Care Act by its real name in an interview with the Statesboro Herald before the dinner, but called it “Obamacare” during his keynote speech for rhetorical effect. The term was first used derisively by opponents but recently has been embraced by President Barack Obama.
Even some Republicans advocate keeping the provisions that Young mentioned in his speech, but the Affordable Care Act is more complex than just those two provisions. Young thinks the law should be subject to revision, he told reporters earlier.
“No, I don’t think we should stick with anything as it is,” he said. “But I think that just like the Civil Rights Bill was not adequate when it was passed but that we had to develop it, we had to refine it, we had to cut some things out that weren’t working. The one thing we have to do is realize that there’s one thing certain in our lives, and that’s change.”
In interviews and his banquet speech, Young defended a role for “good government” working with private enterprise, in contrast to conservative attacks on “big government.”
He spoke of Atlanta, and especially its airport, as an example.
“Now, if there’s any city that works in the world, it’s the city of Atlanta, Georgia, and what they do is, they make capitalism and government work together,” he said.
He asserted that Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport did not cost taxpayers anything, although by his estimate between $20 billion and $25 billion has been spent on improvements there in the past 30 years.
“Nobody cares because what they see is the fact that we might have spent $25 billion, but the one thing we know is it earns $31.5 billion every year, so it pays off the debt, it creates 60,000 direct jobs and maybe 600,000 indirect jobs, all on one good-government project where government and business work together,” Young said.
He also touted spending on public schools and colleges as a less expensive alternative to spending on prisons and economic losses to crime.
Young summoned the term “voodoo economics” from the Reagan era to attack the idea that tax breaks and reduced government spending will spur economic growth. He encouraged Bulloch County Democrats to challenge their Republican friends.
“Ask them, ‘Do you really believe that by cutting taxes for people who make more than a half a million dollars a year you’re going to get more money invested in America? How can you document that when every time we’ve given them a tax break, they’ve sent the money somewhere way out in the rest of the world and lost it?’” Young said.
Backing for Barrow
Barrow, the 12th Congressional District Democrat, talked with Young during the reception.
“I was just talking to your congressman, and we have to re-elect him because he’s the kind of man that can see — and I think not just see things as they are and ask why, as Robert Kennedy said, but see things as they could be and ask why not,” Young told the crowd.
After moving to stay within a district redrawn by the Republican-controlled Georgia Legislature for the second time in seven years, Barrow faces a formidable challenge. Four Republican candidates are grappling in the July 31 primary for the chance to unseat him in November.
As one of three candidates for different offices to speak at the gala, Barrow first thanked Bulloch Democrats for their support in the 2006 election. In the nation’s closest congressional race that year, Barrow won re-election by just 864 votes. In Bulloch County, he said, he received 4,400 votes, five times his margin of victory. He was re-elected by wider margins in 2008 and 2010.
He predicted that another onslaught of advertising will be directed against him between now and the general election.
“Right now, you see what looks like some grassroots campaigning, a little low-wattage campaign on TV and a lot of signs around here,” Barrow said. “Don’t let that fool you. The B-52s are warming up on the runways, and we’re going to get carpet-bombed in this district. You saw it in 2006, and you’re going to see it again.”
The other candidates who spoke were GSU Young Democrats President Marc Silver, running for state representative in District 160 against incumbent Republican Jan Tankersley, and Democratic National Committee member Elizabeth Johnson, running for clerk of Superior Court against incumbent Republican Teresa P. Tucker. All of these candidates are unopposed on their respective party’s general primary ballot.
Bulloch County Democratic Party officials presented awards for service to the party or community to Pat Fitzwater, Pearl and Carlos Brown, Dr. Jim Nichols and Commissioner Ray Mosley.