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?
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?