Health care momentum builds

“The fishing community is under-insured relative to most other industries because of the danger of the job, the migratory nature of the fishing fleets, and the irregular cash flow of the industry,” Wiggins, who chairs the Joint Legislative Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, said in a press statement released on Monday.

The industry’s inherent danger and its economic uncertainties are among the reasons why private insurers often don’t provide group or individual health care coverage. Consequently, fishing families are three to four times more likely to be uninsured than the average U.S. citizen.

But the fishing industry health coverage act, based upon Massachusetts’ successful Fishing Partnership Health Plan that’s been operating for more than a decade, would enable fishermen and fishing families to obtain the health care coverage they need. The act would provide $50 million in grants for the program.

The buzz is that there’s support on both sides of the aisle in Congress for the legislation. Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Tom Allen (D-Maine) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) are among the bill’s supporters.

That doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk. Ideally, Congress would act on the bill before they adjourn to hit the campaign trail for this fall’s elections. Consequently, fishermen need to call and write to their senators and representatives to say that they need this bill — and that they need their representatives to cosponsor and pass the legislation.

You can learn more about the health care bill and easy ways to contact your legislators by visiting the Fishermen’s Partnership Health Plan Web site http://www.fphp.org as well as the Commercial Fishermen of America Web site http://www.cfafish.org/actionalerts.html.

This is an opportunity for fishermen to not only get the affordable health care that they deserve, but also pave the way for an affordable health care system in this country. That could be a major boost to the profile of U.S. commercial fishermen in the eyes of the public — and more importantly, on Capitol Hill.

It’s up to you to make it happen.

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