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Why We Risked Arrest for Single-Payer

On May 5, eight health care advocates, including myself and two other  physicians, stood up to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the Senate Finance  Committee during a “public roundtable discussion” with a simple  question: Will you allow an advocate for a single-payer national health  plan to have a seat at the table?

The answer was a loud, “Get more police!” And we were arrested and  hauled off to jail.

The fact that a national health insurance program is supported by the  majority of the public, doctors and nurses apparently means nothing to  Sen. Baucus. The fact that thousands of people in America are dying  every year because they can’t get health care means nothing. The fact  that over 1 million Americans go into bankruptcy every year due to  medical debt – even though most of them had insurance when they got sick  – means nothing.

And so, as the May 5 meeting approached, we prepared for another one of  the highly scripted, well-protected events that are supposed to make up  the “health care debate” using standard tools of advocacy. We organized  call-in days and faxes to the members of the committee requesting the  presence of one single-payer advocate at the table of 15. Despite  thousands of calls and faxes, the only reply – received on the day  before the event – was, “Sorry, but no more invitations will be issued.”

We knew that this couldn’t be correct. We had heard Sen. Baucus say on  that very same day that “all options were on the table.” And so, the  next day, we donned our suits and traveled to Washington. We had many  knowledgeable single-payer advocates in our group. And as the meeting  started, one of us, Mr. Russell Mokhiber, stood up to say that we were  here and we were ready to take a seat. And he was promptly removed from  the room.

In that moment, it all became so clear. We could write letters, phone  staffers, and fax until the machines fell apart, but we=2 0would never  get our seat at the table.

The senators understand that most people want a national health system  and that an improved Medicare for All would include everybody and  provide better health care at a lower cost. These facts mean nothing to  most of them because they respond to only one standard tool of advocacy:  money, and lots of it.

The people seated at the table represented the corporate interests:  private health insurers and big business and those who support their  agenda. The people whose voices were heard all represented organizations  which pay huge sums of money to political campaigns. These interests  profit greatly from the current health care industry and do not want  changes that will hurt their large, personal pocketbooks.

And so, we have entered a new phase in the movement for health care as a  human right: acts of civil disobedience. It is time to directly  challenge corporate interests. History has shown that in order to gain  human rights, we must be willing to speak out and risk arrest. We must  engage in actions that expose corporate fraud and corruption. We must  make our presence known.

And that is why the eight of us, knowledgeable health care advocates and  providers, most of us parents, some of us grandparents, spoke out  one-by-one at the Senate Finance Committee. And it is why we will  continue to speak out and encourage others to do the same. Our voices  must be strong enough to drown out the influence of corpo rate dollars.

Health care must become the civil rights movement of this decade. The  opportunity is here. And we can create a single-payer national health  care system.

Yes, we can.

Dr. Margaret Flowers is a pediatrician in the Baltimore are and  co-chairs the Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health  Program (PNHP). Her statement was co-signed by Mark Dudzic, Labor  Campaign for Single Payer; Russell Mokhiber, Single Payer Action; Carol  Paris, M.D., PNHP; Katie Robbins, Healthcare-NOW!; Pat Salomon, M.D.,  PNHP; Adam Schneider, B’more Housing for All; and Kevin Zeese,  ProsperityAgenda.us.