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Trial of Health Care Organizer Begins Today

September 22, 2009

RICHMOND, Va. - A health care reform organizer goes to trial today for trespassing, following his arrest after a demonstration protesting increases in private health insurance premiums. It's a case that's shining a brighter light on the reform debate in Virginia.

Police arrested Joe Szakos of the Virginia Organizing Project during a July 24 protest at the group's insurer, Anthem BCBS of Virginia. Szakos says the increase mirrors how it's nearly impossible for small groups and businesses to find affordable health care coverage.

Christine Heiby, the owner of Beltway Supply in Alexandria, says she'll be following the trial with the same interest she's had in the health reform debate. She's been in contact with Szakos' group because she says she pays nearly 10,000 dollars a year for health insurance, and yet for a recent 500 dollar mammogram, her insurer paid just 50 dollars.

"I'm not exactly sure why I have health insurance and I'm not sure, I'm afraid, truthfully I'm afraid to use my benefits."

Heiby's health insurance premiums rose 25 percent this year, and she says that with coverage like hers, she can't afford both health insurance and medical care.

"I'm a small-business owner, I don't make a lot of money. I can't afford to pay out-of-pocket for my health insurance plus going to the doctor."

The trespassing charges against Joe Szakos were filed by Henrico County and he will appear at the county courthouse at 11 a.m. today. He was arrested at Anthem headquarters.

The Virginia Organizing Project is online at www.virginia-organizing.org

Aries Keck, Public News Service - VA