"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win" - Mahatma Gandhi
It is clear that advocates for "single payer" healthcare have been ignored by the President and laughed at by the likes of Max Baucus (as activist Dr. Margaret Flowers and seven others were carted off to jail for demanding a voice on behalf of single payer in his Senate committee's health reform debate). As for the fight, it continues as grass roots activists move forward with a newly energized, undaunted coalition to bring REAL health reform to America.
The current Health "Reform" Bill actually does nothing to reform how healthcare is delivered. Instead it expands health care as a commodity. The rest of the civilized world understands healthcare is a human right and the majority of Americans support a national health plan. The sellout to corporate interests, especially the insurance industry and big pharma, was in place even before Obama was elected - the deals were cut. The resulting boondoggle shocked and dismayed the healthcare reform community and the left wing of the Dem party. Are we really just one party with only shades of grey?
In 1987, 12.9% of Americans were uninsured. By 2008, it was 15.4%. There is a uniformity of politics regardless of who is in the White House, a concerted effort from those at the top of the economic ladder to push down those on the lower rungs. Disparities are growing and the middle class is being squeezed out.
Yet single payer advocates have grown enormously in the past few years in size and political sophistication, spreading across the country. Many work at the federal level, while others work simultaneously for state-level single payer plans. It is clear there is strength in unifying and supporting each other while building the movement. In this spirit, there was a teach-in held at St. Luke's Hospital on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on April 24th, attended by single payer advocates from far and wide who filled the auditorium.
There were panels, a Powerpoint presentation and a video recapping the past year's successes in building the movement. Single payer activist leaders were the panelists, with Dr. Flowers as the keynote speaker. A certain satisfaction filled the auditorium with awareness that media was beginning to cover their sit-ins, protests and marches. The California Nurses Association has been aggressively working to build the movement, and The Mad as Hell Doctors Caravan has been crisscrossing the country informing and handing out leaflets explaining what single payer could deliver. With numerous other actions across the country.True missionaries all.
One informative presentation given by Len Rodberg, Research Director of PNHP (Physicians For A National Health Program, www.pnhp.org and www.pnhpnymetro.org) entitled "The Health Reform Bill as a Band Aid" showed statistics on how the bill comes up short and will not contain costs and deliver quality healthcare that is universal. One startling statistic: At the current rate of increase, in 17 years our total incomes will be spent on health insurance. How many will be uninsured by then? Penalties will become a bargain rather than being insured, and costs will continue to escalate. Only single payer can deliver real savings, as now confirmed by 18 different studies.
The most compelling and heart-wrenching part of the event was the appearance of six severely disabled men and women in wheelchairs. They had come to address Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, Chairman of the Health Committee in the New York State Assembly. Their protest signs made plain their case: "NO ENFORCED POVERTY." Long-term care only exists with Medicaid, meaning you must prove poverty and have no assets to qualify. These folks have been marginalized and left to a life of poverty.
One man, disabled rights activist Danny Robert, is afflicted with MS and spoke from his wheelchair, breathing from an oxygen tank with his companion and fellow activist Nadina LaSpina by his side in her own wheelchair holding his speech for him. He described the challenges this community lives with every day, and she noted that if they had married, he would have been taken off of Medicaid because she had taught at the New School and other universities and had income, so he would no longer qualify for Medicaid. She has polio and in time will go on Medicaid as well. Then they will be able to marry, impoverished but together. This group of activists fight daily to live independent lives in their own apartments with aides they train to fill their needs. No institutional existence for them, a core issue for these feisty activists. They are inspirational.
Chairman Gottfried listened intently as Mr. Robert demanded that this law be struck down, and said he would consider it. One could tell the Chairman was moved by this passionate testimony from a courageous man who had once had a successful career in the motion picture industry.
What kind of an America have we become when our laws prevent marriage in order to qualify for a class-defined healthcare program that is Medicaid? The Obama health plan has no provision for long-term care, which will become a major issue that each and every one of us will face one day. In Rep. John Conyers' (D-MI) bill H.R. 676, Improved Medicare For All, long-term care is included; rich and poor alike would be in the same boat and the stigma of Medicaid would be removed. Now that is democracy. This alone makes H.R. 676 a bill worth fighting for.
So where does the single payer movement go from here? One thing for sure, they will no longer be deferential to the Democratic party. They are taking the fight to their legislators in their communities and in D.C., demanding accountability. They are expanding their ranks to include social justice organizations and others with a common interest: REAL healthcare that is accessible, affordable and delivers quality care to everyone. After all, no other issue so affects us all.
Further information can be found on this subject on the following websites:
http://www.moneyedpoliticians.net/medicare-for-all ( good newsletter on politics and health)
Additional content by Jon Stone