Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Eight single payer advocates protest and are arrested at Senate Finance Committee hearing

Despite having the support of a majority of citizens, health care professionals and health care economists, single payer has remained "off the table" as far as Sen. Max Baucus is concerned.

This is why Tuesday's Senate Finance Committee roundtable, the second of three looking at health care reform, invited fifteen speakers, none of whom spoke in favor of single payer, and several of whom had ties to the for-profit health care and insurance industries, both of which are hefty funders of committee chair Max Baucus's re-election efforts, according to OpenSecrets.org. Writing on CommonDreams.org, California Nurses Association organizer Donna Smith noted that "Karen Ignagni, head of the industry lobby group American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) was escorted into the room like royalty by staff members of the Senate committee."

But single payer got a hearing after all, as eight activists and doctors stood up at the start of the roundtable, addressed the committee, were ruled out of order, escorted from the room by Capitol police, and arrested.

The eight wore black in memory of the 22,000 people who die every year due to lack of health insurance. They represented a coalition of single-payer advocacy organizations including Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), Healthcare-NOW, Single Payer Action, Private Health Insurance Must Go, the Campaign for Fresh Air and Clean Politics, Prosperity Agenda, and Health Care for the Homeless.

“Health insurance administrators are practicing medicine without a medical license,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers, co-chair of Maryland chapter of PNHP. “The result is the suffering and death of thousands of patients for the sake of private profit. The private health insurance industry has a solid grip on patients, providers and legislators. It is time to stand up and declare that health care is a human right.”

According to Donna Smith, organizer for the California Nurses Association, the protest changed the mood in the room from "a giddy and gleeful assembly of industry lobbyists" to a recognition, however dim, that "some brave and patriotic fellow citizens had just been hauled out for arrest for nothing more than demanding that a point of view held by a majority of patients, nurses, physicians and other healthcare providers be included in the national discussion."

She also that the senators on the panel and the assembled press seemed more bemused than intrigued by the demonstration, and only two reporters mustered the curiosity to follow the protesters out of the hall and find out more. It could well be that the media blackout on single payer will continue even when activists are getting hauled off in handcuffs.

Given that there is one more roundtable in the series, your response is more vital than ever. If you're a constituent of one of the senators that sits on this committee, make it a point to call, protest the treatment of the eight activists, and demand that single-payer representatives be included next time. Let your neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family know you made the call and urge them to do the same. For details, see this blog post.

Call your state legislators and tell them to sign on to this appeal for single payer. Your state officials are much more likely to know how the cost of for-profit health care is affecting citizens, local budgets, and small businesses, and much less likely to be cashing big checks from health industry PACs and CEOs.

Lastly, start planning for May 30, a national day of action for single payer health care. Even small actions--screening a film or hosting a speaker--help spread the word and convince others to add their voices to the ever-growing call to get "everybody in, nobody out!"

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