Single-Payer Advocates Have to Get Arrested to Get Heard

Eight doctors and other advocates of a national single-payer health care system–which would improve and expand Medicare to everyone–were arrested yesterday when they disrupted a Senate committee meeting on health care reform.

The single-payer advocates wanted to know why experts
representing their position were being excluded from the roundtable of 15 witnesses speaking before the Senate Finance Committee's roundtable on health reform.

Donna Smith, a community organizer for the California Nurses Association, explained to Labor Notes why single-payer advocates had to get arrested to get heard in Washington.

Labor Notes: Why are Congress and the administration shutting single-payer experts out of the policymaking process?

Donna Smith: Our feeling is that it’s purposeful to shut out the single-payer position.

National health insurance is the position advocated by about 60 percent of the public in independent polls, and almost 60 percent of physicians. There are millions of people who support single payer but it’s the one position that doesn’t bode well for the private insurance industry.

And the private insurance industry contributes mightily to campaigns throughout the nation. They spend a lot of money ensuring their position in the system.

LN: What were you calling for?

DS: These people [who were arrested yesterday] weren’t saying, ‘give us single payer.’ They were saying, ‘give us a witness!’

Give us a voice in this testimony being taken for this nation. We’ve never been afraid of that before. If these elected leaders aren’t hearing from all positions, how can they make the best decision?

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LN: Do the arrests yesterday indicate that single-payer advocates’ strategy is changing?

DS: We don’t know yet. In the single-payer movement, there’s been growing unrest among lots of people that they are not being heard. Members of Congress and to a certain extent the new administration are just not open—we hear their words about transparency in government and being a part of the process, but what’s happening in policy is not being shared with the people.

In this economy, 14,000 people a day are losing their employer-based health care benefits. If we implement any kind of system that requires subsidizing people who can’t afford to pay for health insurance, how in the world do we base a system on requiring employer-based health insurance?

LN: Considering how marginalized the single-payer voice has been in shaping the debate over health care reform, is creating a “public option” in the sea of private insurers a fallback position?

DS: Some people would like that to be the game plan. Those of us who believe that single payer is the right way for this nation don’t think we’re advocating a fallback position.

People have suggested to us that we’re providing balance to the argument right now by standing firm on single payer. That’s not what the nurses, doctors, the folks arrested yesterday are feeling. They’re saying single payer is the right way to go. They’re not providing political balance—we’re trying to ensure there aren’t injustices in health care delivery anymore.

If health care is a human right—and our president said it, as he campaigned—how can we set in place any system that makes your human right bronze level, mine silver, and my neighbor’s gold?


trex (not verified) | 08/08/11

Gees... What we ended up getting was NOT a health care bill. It was health insurance reform, and pretty mild reform at that. As your article describes, once again legislation ignores the very people it's supposed to benefit. As Noam Chomsky discusses in a recent Alternet article the government has pretty much been taken over by the financial and services industried.


jacksmith (not verified) | 05/17/09

They are trying to kill healthcare reform. And continue our healthcare crisis. Don't put up with that.


There are many other booby traps out there set for you congress. Be careful.

God Bless You

jacksmith — WORKING CLASS

grobovsky (not verified) | 05/15/09

Where is Obama's voice in demanding that the will of the majority be heard and why is he pandering to the demands of corrupt greedy private enterprisers?

Absolutely, completely agree

I think the argument should not be for "single payer to have a seat at the table" in order to "round out the debate" and create some sort of "compromise" between the advocates for single-payer, which I am one of, and the private insurance or limited - public/private partnership interests. Instead, I think that those of us who support single payer need to be demanding a seat at the table and then making a firm, unshakable demand for single payer and Single Payer ONLY. A limited, comprehensive public healthcare system cannot possibly compete side by side with the private insurance companies because those companies' very existence and nature (their purpose is creating profits, NOT caring for people) will drive up costs generally over time and force any public system to cut services, cover fewer patients and and increase costs for patients in order to try and "compete" (see Canada or Britain's NHS, for example). Of course, this will only invite countless future accusations of inefficiency and "rationing" (as if healthcare isn't rationed - to The RICH! - already) by the far-right and the liberal supporters of private insurance and drug companies, for profit healthcare providers, and their interests. My point is, you don't win a fight, or a debate, by tying your strong arm behind your back and hoping your opponents will go easy on you, or by compromising your fundamental demands and starting positions from the very beginning. I believe that we, in the single payer healthcare movement, need to stick to our aces and firmly stand beside the demand for the passing of HR 676 as a starting point for any meaningful reform. Universal, "affordable" healthcare will not and cannot stay "affordable" for very long. Recognizing this as fact, we need to demand comprehensive, free-at-source care for all as a human right! We need to support and demand passage of HR 676. No compromises with the for-profit health insurance industry!

I can only assume that Democrat's reluctance to prosecute those government officials and former office holders who are guilty of treason, war crimes, and crimes against humanity as a reservation of the right of this administration to have similar "errors in judgment". What the propaganda machine is calling the "center" has been moved so far to the right, by eight years of blatant criminality, that elected officials who call themselves "moderate Democrats" can carry out a Neo Conservative agenda at home and abroad without feeling that they need to become Republicans to do so. The concerted effort to keep the "red state" voters from feeling disenfranchised has left those who elected Democrats to all those offices with representation in name only. Innocent people are still dying in my name from cowardly 'drone' attacks. War profiteers are still making out like the bandits that they are. The failed corporate economy is being propped up using my great great grand children's tax dollars while hard working Americans are still losing their jobs and homes. The same future generations that are now being robbed of their inheritance will be required to pay the cost of giving it to the largest corporations. With 'Single Payer' health care 'off the table' we can expect to continue to pay the same bloodsucking HMOs, health insurance corporations, and pharmaceutical corporations that make ours one of the most expensive and worst health care delivery systems in the developed world. I am guessing that all of this is somehow related to the fact that domestic and multinational corporations can make much more impressive campaign contributions than our leaders supposed constituents. I guess Robert Newman got it right when he said “The total abolition of corporations is the sine qua non of democracy”. I'm not sure we can get there from here. The American Revolution looked impossible in the mid 1770s and we really ought to give democracy a try.

Anonymous (not verified) | 05/07/09

How can Baucus claim to respect our views and to care deeply about considering the best health reforms when there were no experts representing the single payer view point?
Where is Obama's voice in demanding that the will of the majority be heard and why is he pandering to the demands of corrupt greedy private enterprisers?
Some parts of our society should never ever be corrupted by money..our healthcare is one of them.
We've allowed a handful of degenerate filthy rich useless greedy backstabbers destroy our democracy and cause the death of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people. I call them backstabbers because they would sell out thier own country for a few bucks. Right Wing hypocrites who rail against abortion and then fight to the death to cut any social service or healthcare to the same children they claim to care about. Truly...they make us look like a country of murderers and liars before the world.