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The Baucus 8 Are Free

Members of the Baucus 8 appeared at the H. Carl Moultrie I Courthouse last week for their final hearing following 6 months of probation and, for 3 members, 40 hours of community service. The Baucus 8, all of whom are doctors or health advocates, were arrested in the Senate Finance Committee Health Care Roundtable on May 5th for standing up and asking why single payer advocates were not allowed to testify.

Dr. Pat Solomon, a retired pediatrician noted that, “When we looked at the list of 41 people testifying in the 3 days of Roundtables, we saw that not a single witness was an advocate of the principle that healthcare should be a fundamental human right for all in America, nor was there anyone to speak for the majority of the American people who support single payer/Medicare for All.”

Senator Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, convened the May Roundtable to kick off the public consideration of the 111th Congress’ legislative proposals for healthcare reform. The Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care, a coalition of nurses, doctors, labor, faith, health advocate and community groups representing over 20 million people nationwide, sent a request to the Finance Committee for one of their leaders testify. When this was denied, thousands of single payer supporters across the nation contacted the committee to request that single payer be included.

“Despite the outpouring of requests,” said Katie Robbins of Healthcare-Now.org, “we were clearly told that we would be excluded. This cemented our growing impression that the healthcare debate was at best, political theater, and that we would have to try a different tactic in order that the only really affordable health reform solution, that addresses the real health care needs of 100% of our nation be heard.”

KEVIN ZEESE of ProsperityAgenda.US called the committee “pay to play” because, as he said, “Every seat at the Roundtable was bought by the lobbyists. Senator Baucus received nearly $2 million in campaign contributions from the health industry in 2008 and the entire Senate Finance Committee received over $13 million in 2008.”

“Congress and the White House keep calling the medical industry corporations the ‘stakeholders’ in this reform process,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), “But we know that the true stakeholders are those who provide and receive medical care, not those who profit off the current situation.”

“After we were arrested, Senator Baucus admitted that it was a mistake to take single payer off the table,” said Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action. “Clearly it was. Both the House and Senate bills would require Americans to buy a junk insurance at an inflated price. This bill is a bailout of the insurance industry. Instead of bailing out the private insurance companies, we ought to get rid of them and replace them with one public insurance pool. Everybody in, nobody out. Congress ought to defeat this monstrosity, start from scratch and pass single payer. We will get single payer sooner or later. Better sooner.”

“ Wendell Potter, formerly of CIGNA and Humana (not a member of the Baucus 8) calls this legislation ‘The Private Health Insurance Profit Protection and Enhancement Act,’” stated Dr. Carol Paris, also of PNHP and a practicing physician in Southern Maryland. “And we agree because the final legislation will benefit the medical corporations, further strengthening their ability to buy members of Congress, and will continue the expensive and complicated health situation that we have in this country right now which makes it difficult for patients and doctors to focus on health care.”

In fact, as an example of the revolving door between those who are lobbyists and those who are staff, Liz Fowler, former Vice President of Public Policy at Wellpoint, one of the largest health insurers in the nation, left her lucrative position to work as the point person in the Senate Finance Committee to oversee the legislation. Her name is cited as author of the Senate Finance Bill.

Mark Dudzic of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer said the group’s action has been vindicated by the subsequent actions in the Senate. “The current deplorable proposals for healthcare reform under consideration in Congress show what happens when you start bargaining by conceding all of the terrain to your opponent. Any shop steward in America would have done a better job than the leaders of the political party in control of overwhelming majorities in both houses of congress.”

In addition to probation, the prosecutor insisted that the three defendants who lived in the Washington, DC area also perform 40 hours of community service. “I spend every day serving my community,” said Adam Schneider who is employed by Health Care for the Homeless. “I’m proud of the stand we took and had no problem doing an extra 40 hours of service to my community. But if there was any justice in the world, Senator Baucus and his corporate sponsors would have also been required to spend 40 hours with my clients to understand their desperate need for access to healthcare before they give a $500 billion bailout to the private health insurance industry.”

The group is unanimous that no matter what passes this year, health care reform is not over in this nation. Patients will continue to suffer and die needlessly, families will continue to face bankruptcy and foreclosure because of medical debt until we have a national publicly-financed and privately-delivered single payer/Medicare for all health system. Such a system would be transparent and accountable to the people unlike the current situation in which private insurers are experts at hiding information from the public and at violating their own written rules without recourse.

This year saw tremendous growth in a national movement for Medicare for all. The Baucus 8 vow to continue to do whatever it takes, even facing arrest again, to get an honest and open-minded debate about what type of health system is best so that people in this nation can be healthy and productive and stop worrying about what they will do if accident or illness strikes.

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Kevin Zeese is an organizer at Popular Resistance.

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