Everybody In, Nobody Out: Single-payer rally on Capitol Hill

by , posted on Sunday, August 2nd, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Last Thursday was probably the hottest and most humid day of the summer so far in Washington, DC, and yet several hundred health care reform activists, brought together by the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care, stuck it out in the heat to rally and lobby for single-payer. It was the 44th anniversary of the

passage of Medicare and the day began with the delivery of Medicare birthday cupcakes and cards to congressional offices. Later in the day activists met with their representatives to lobby for single-payer. And in between a rally was held in Upper Senate Park, just across the street from the Capitol. The remarks of several of the speakers and photos from the rally follow.

Mark Dudzic: I welcome you here on this great day, the 44th birthday of Medicare. On this great morning, in 1965, millions of our fellow Americans woke up and found that for the first time in their lives they were secure, that they had the right to health care. We are here to celebrate that moment in history and to begin the massive task of extending that right to everybody in this country.

And to kick off this great day, we are so proud to have with us Congressman John Conyers, who has led the fight for Medicare for all. Please welcome Congressman Conyers.

Rep. John Conyers: Give Mark Dudzic a round of applause, and yourselves a round of applause. Welcome to the nation’s capital, [where] we’re trying to keep democracy alive. We come in peaceful, nonviolent protest, to tell everybody in Washington, especially my colleagues, “Let’s get with it, okay?”

Now, I’m gonna do something that I hope some of my colleagues don’t get sore about. I’m gonna mention them. I’m not mad at them, they’re entitled to their own views, it’s a democratic society … but there are a number of people here that are smart enough to be saying more intelligent things about health care than they are. Okay? And that’s why you’re here, to try to visit them. They’ll duck you today, I’m not worried about that… but we’re trying to reach out. Look, 218, that’s the number.

And we want to make everybody know that I’m a little disappointed with these dear friends of mine… We’re not demanding that you get on the bill, but what we would like you to do is sit and talk with your constituents, and the doctors that are all here, and let’s get honest. If you’ve got some legitimate problems about making healthcare a right for everybody, I mean what’s so radical about, is that socialism? I don’t think so. …

I’ll be very brief about [H. R.] 3200. It isn’t worth the back of the card your single-payer bill is written on. I am not voting for it. Neither are the progressives. We’re not voting for it for the right reasons. You’ve got to give us a real public option. You’ve got to keep in Kucinich’s amendment to allow single-payer groups to start in each state. And you’re got to insure everybody, without making them criminals if they can’t afford insurance.

The biggest oxymoron in this discussion is “We want to create a system so you have affordable health care.” What kind of system, if you don’t have a dime to your name, what’s affordable health care? There are millions and millions of people that can’t afford any health care at any cost, they’ve got a right to the same quality of health care as every member of the House of Representatives, and every Senator, and every member of the Supreme Court. We’re all entitled to good quality health care without having to find out how poor you are. …

Now, here is the problem, political problem. There are those who want President Obama to fail. And many of them have talked him into this junk bill, hoping it will allow for winning, and that if it passes, and I don’t even think it will, he’ll be blamed when everybody says “Hey, you’re not insuring everybody. Hey, there’s no public option. Hey, you guys stood us up a Dennis Kucinich provision … We blame you Mr. President.” …

So, conclusion. Everybody here, say: Look, I’m going back and talk with my Member — 85 of us are already on it, keep encouraging us — but I’m gonna talk with my Member, face-to-face, no staffers, no “I’m busy and can’t see you.” We’re gonna talk to you and find out what your problem is about universal single-payer health care.

And the same with the two Senators. We don’t have one Senator on this bill, even though two or three of them, when they were Congressman, they were with it.

So, first of all we express our love to you and you send it back to us. And we’re going to make democracy work by getting a good health care bill come hell or high water.

Thank you very much.

Mark Dudzic: Thank you Congressman. We wouldn’t be here today without Congressman Conyers.

I am proud to introduce the MCs for today, two of the best organizers in single-payer in America, Katie Robbins from Healthcare Now! and Donna Smith with the California Nurses Association. …

I would like to call up my friend and brother, Jos Williams, who is the President of the Metro DC Labor Council, and a great voice for single-payer in the labor movement. Please welcome Jos Williams.

Jos Williams: Welcome everyone. Are you ready? Are you ready? Let me welcome you to the nation’s capital. And let me say Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary, 44th anniversary of Medicare. And I expect ten years from now, we’ll not only be celebrating 54th anniversary of Medicare, but the tenth anniversary of single-payer health care. Can I predict that? We’re gonna make it happen in 2009.

And I am glad you are here, because you are the frontline people who are gonna make it happen. It’s not the politicians, it’s the foot soldiers. And I am proud that you are here in Washington to make it happen.

So I welcome you and I wanna say just to those Blue Dog Democrats and those Republicans, and what makes me angry is that every one of these are individuals who have a public plan health care. They are enjoying it. And then that turkey from South Carolina has the audacity to say “Mr President, keep your hands off my health care.” Your health care? It’s the taxpayers’ health care, and if it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for every American citizen here.

And for those that fail to recognize the privilege that they have, that in 2010 we would remind them, because their loss is our gain. So brothers and sisters, welcome to Washington. Walk the halls, beat the doors, and remember, November of 2010, don’t fail to remind them. We can change their address from here to back to their states.

Katie Robbins: Right on Jos Williams. It’s my pleasure to introduce the President of Public Citizen, Dr. Sidney Wolfe. We’re gonna invite him up to the stage to tell us about the work he’s been doing on single-payer.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe: Before I spend the rest of my two minutes, I just wanna remember my dear friend, many of your dear friend, Tony Mazzocchi. When Tony Mazzocchi talked about health insurance he said “Everybody in, nobody out.” Let’s say that: “Everybody in, nobody out. Everybody in, nobody out.”

I wanna then go back about eight days ago. Eight days ago the President of the United States addressed a town hall meeting in the high school that I graduated from 54 years ago in Cleveland. And he pretty much admitted, and we’re now seeing a week since then that other people have come to realize it, that the only way we’re going to have everybody in, nobody out, is to have a single-payer. What President Obama said last week was, you know, if you really want to have everyone covered, the only way to do that is with a single-payer system. That’s what he says, that’s not what he does, though. So, the issue becomes sort of simple.

What you’re seeing today, in the Washington Post, the New York Times, elsewhere, is that people are beginning to say “well, maybe we’re not going to cover everybody because we want to stay budget-neutral, and the only way we can balance the budget is to leave out this ten million people, this ten million people, if you work for a small business they don’t have to cover you.” You just see the creeping incrementalism back away from universal coverage.

So, I think the point of all this is, if you really believe in everybody in, and nobody out, you have to get rid of the private health insurance industry. Because the amount of money they’re talking about, $80 billion from the drug industry, $155 billion from the hospitals, that is nickel and dime money compared with the roughly $400 billion a year you would save by getting rid of the private health insurance industry and bringing patients and doctors closer together, not farther as these naysayers have taken out ads to say.

Single-payer is really the only answer. It’s not like there are lots of answers and this is just one of them. If we want to have everybody in, and nobody out, and not spend more than we’re already spending, $2.6 trillion a year, get rid of the private health insurance industry, that’s what [H. R.] 676 is about, that’s what we’re all about, and thank you for allowing me to talk with you.

Donna Smith: Thank you Sidney. …

I have a little rally cry for ya today. Are ya ready? President Obama, the nurses and the patients say “Get the moneychangers out of our medical care. Out!”

Want to say it together? “President Obama, get the moneychangers OUT of our medical care!” Woo hoo! We’re gonna say that some more today.

I’m gonna introduce to you today somebody who knows a little something about President Obama. We’ve heard him frequently in recent days on the news, and being very brave and courageous to speak up for what he knows our President already knows, but apparently needs some reminders about, is that single-payer is the way for this nation. It’s economically the most sensible, it’s also morally the most acceptable. Simple idea from the left, public financing. Simple idea from the right, private delivery. Together in one centrist plan, right? Woo!

Here is Dr. Scheiner from Chicago, President Obama’s personal doctor.

Dr. David Scheiner: … I’m here today because years ago I was practicing medicine in an office on the south side of Chicago, with my partner and great friend, Dr. Quentin Young, when a young community organizer came to see me as a patient. I became his personal physician for 22 years and he became President of the United States. I support and admire him and consider him to be the most promising President of my lifetime, which stretches back to 1938. But I respectfully differ with him on his approach to health care reform. I speak to you today as an advocate for the single-payer approach to health reform, an expanded and improved Medicare for all. And I’m hoping that President Obama and Congress will hear me also.

As some of you may know, I was supposed to be at the recent town hall meeting at the White House, where I was to ask a question of the President, but my visit was cancelled at the last minute, presumably to prevent the national airing of my views on health reform. Is the single-payer message message so dangerous that it can not even be discussed by Congress and the Administration? Yes, there are parties who stand to lose out under a single-payer program. The private, for-profit health care companies and their multimillionaire CEOs in the first place. The head of AETNA, for example, received $18.6 million in compensation last year. That’s obscene. By the way, the Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School last year received $3.5 million. That’s not much better. Investor-owned, for-profit hospitals won’t benefit from single-payer, either. Neither will the pharmaceutical companies who no longer be able to sell their drugs at such outrageous prices. A single-payer system will be able to buy drugs in bulk and negotiate prices.

Some opponents attack single payer, arguing that under such a program government bureaucrats will be between the patient and the physician. In the forty years I have been practicing under Medicare, I have never encountered an instance when Medicare has prevented proper medical care. On the other hand, insurance companies frequently interfere and block appropriate care. There are multiple problems with the present congressional health care reform proposals, but allowing private insurance to continue being involved is the most egregious. The insurance companies actually like many of the proposed reforms, including the requirement that every American purchase insurance or suffer a tax penalty, which would be a windfall to the insurance industry. That alone should be a warning; they like it. I don’t.

I mentioned who will lose out under a single-payer program. Who benefits? The American people. Do they matter? Do we really care about the 50 million without health insurance as long as the rest of us have our own coverage? Do we think about the additional tens of millions who are underinsured, who face economic hardship or bankruptcy when serious illness strikes? Single-payer will offer secure, comprehensive, and quality care to all.

A single-payer program could be implemented easily without disruption as was the case with traditional Medicare. This is a moral obligation. We are all responsible for seeing that health care is a right. That’s the view of Physicians for a National Health Program. Opponents of single-payer say if the government pays for healthcare the system will deteriorate, but we have two single-payer programs already operating that work superbly, Medicare and the Veteran’s Administration program. Medicare overhead is 3%, private insurance is five times that.

Our nation is at a crossroads. We must not squander the opportunity of this momentous time. We must not give in to the insurance and drug companies. Instead, do what is right for all Americans. Please, Mr. President, Congress, enact an expanded and improved Medicare for all.

Donna Smith: How many of you think President Obama might want to invite his doctor over to the White House for a beer? Woo hoo!

I heard Dr. Scheiner say a little earlier he would be happy with a drink of water. Right?

Let’s get the money changers out of our medical care. Right? Woo!

Donna Smith: You know, we haven’t had a lot to celebrate in Congress in the last few months, we folks who support single payer, but in the United States Senate we have one huge hero who stands above all the other Senators in speaking the truth about what needs to happen. Bernie Sanders is from Vermont. He authored an amendment to a Senate health bill that would have allowed single-payer to flourish in some of our states, and we are pleased to say Senator Sanders did not stand alone on that vote, he had other Senators vote with him. We’re so honored to have him here today, one of our real heroes in the single-payer fight, Senator Bernie Sanders.

Senator Bernie Sanders: Thank you. Brothers and sisters, thank you very much for being here today, and the fight that is being waged at all fifty states, so that we address the great civil rights issue of our time, and that is the need for every man, woman and child to have health care as a right and not a privilege.

You are fighting against the immorality of a system which says that if you are rich you have access to the best quality health care in the world, but on the other hand, and at the same time, over 18,000 Americans die every single year because they don’t have access to a doctor when they need that access. That’s wrong.

You are fighting against a system which forces millions of elderly people, and many others, to go without the prescription drugs they need because in our country the pharmaceutical industry has created a situation where our people are paying by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. That’s wrong.

Economically you’re fighting against an insane situation in which approximately one million individuals this year will go bankrupt because of medically related costs. That’s absurd.

And most importantly you are fighting against a system in which we spend twice as much as any other country on earth and yet we end up with 46 million Americans uninsured.

The moral issue is, is that health care is a right and not a commodity in which people, insurance companies, and drug companies should be making billions of dollars in profits.

The truth is, is that it should not just be progressives who are for a single-payer, it should be conservatives. And the reason for that is what the goal of health care, what the goal of any good business management is, is that for every dollar you put into the system, you want as much as possible for that dollar to do what it is supposed to do. It is totally absurd that in America, for every dollar we spend on health care, we only get 70 cents of value. It is absurd that we have 1,300 private insurance companies, thousands of different programs, that will provide one program to you if you’re young and healthy, another one if you’re fifty and you have a pre-existing condition, that is absurd. It is absurd that in the last thirty years, for every one new doctor we have seen come into health care, we have 25 bureaucrats, that we are spending money on, that tell us why we can’t get the health care that we thought we paid for.

Now all of you know what the health care system is about today. It’s mostly the right of the health insurance and the drug companies to make as much money as they can. And right now, right now, and why it’s so good to see you here, according to an article just a couple of weeks ago, if you can believe it, the health care industry is spending $1.3 million every single day to make sure we don’t have the kind of health care that the American people need. So, what we have got to do, is, not just today but tomorrow and every single day, is to go back to all of our fifty states and rally millions and millions of people to end the current absurd system, to move us on a single-payer system, so that the day comes when every American can get into a doctor’s office, go to a hospital, and not have to worry about whether they have the money or not.

Thank you very, very much.

Katie Robbins: … I have some friends with me here today. And you know, we’ve had some arrests lately. I was one of eight people who were arrested in the Senate Finance Committee … So, I’ve got my fellow Baucus Eight, which is now actually the Baucus Thirteen, but recently in Iowa you had nine more brave people standing up…

Dr. Margaret Flowers: Thank you, it’s so great to be here. You know, I’m a pediatrician and I didn’t really expect to be getting arrested, but here we are.

So, you know, for decades, things have been getting worse for patients and health professionals because of the health insurance industry denying care, restricting care, telling us what we can and can not have, and it finally came to a point where we had to say it’s our professional responsibility to no more remain silent. We can not remain silent and watch people suffer and die. And that’s why we stood up to Senator Baucus to get arrested. I want to introduce Dr. Carol Paris, a practicing physician, Mark Dudzic from the Labor Party, and Katie you know, and who am I missing, oh, Kevin Zeese from ProsperityAgenda. The other five couldn’t be here today, they’re out working and doing what we do every day.

So I had the privilege recently to travel to Iowa with this amazing group there who did an action at the Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the major insurance companies in Iowa, who actually, when we looked into their practices, are allowed to deny policies to people based on a symptom of a condition, regardless of whether that condition has been diagnosed or treated over the past sixty months. And that can be a permanent denial of coverage for that condition that hasn’t been diagnosed. This has got to stop, we’ve got to stand up, and these brave people from Iowa did that. So I’m going to ask our youngest arrestee so far, Miss Frankie Hughes, to tell you a little bit about that action. Thank you.

Frankie Hughes: I am Frankie, from Des Moines, Iowa. I will be twelve on Saturday. Me and eight other people were arrested Monday at Blue Cross Blue Shield, a major health insurance company. We wrote a letter to John Forsyth, the CEO, asking him questions about how much money he makes. He did not answer. We refused to leave until our questions were answered, but instead they arrested us. I did this because other people are out there suffering. The only way we can get health care for everyone is to get health care for everyone.

You can do it too. If we don’t, everything will stay the same, and more and more people will die because of it. Thank you.

Donna Smith: Can you believe she’s eleven years old? Woo hoo! We’re not leaving this for Frankie, are we?

Okay folks, it’s time to sing Happy Birthday to Medicare, ready or not, we have some new words and they’re easy, okay?

How many of your are sick of this phrase that we need a uniquely American solution? We already have one, don’t we?

Okay, here’s the new words.

Happy Birthday, dear Medicare
You’re red, white and blue
You’re uniquely American
And we all want you too

Can we do this? Alright, here we go.

Happy Birthday, dear Medicare
You’re red, white and blue
Uniquely American
And we all want you too

Woo hoo!

Donna Smith: … Alright, Jonathan Tasini, candidate for New York State Senate, take it away.

Jonathan Tasani: … So my friends, I’m gonna be short. Most politicians, either running for office or elected, wanna come up and give a speech. Our job, as political leaders, is to talk about what the people are saying, which those Blue Dogs, and the other people over there don’t quite get. So, what we asked, we asked the thousands of the supporters that we have across the state, to send us the messages that they want to send to Congress, and we got hundreds of them. And I’m just going to read you, very quickly, three or four.

“Let no man, woman or member of Congress stand between any American citizen and their basic human right to single-payer health care. The failure of our politicians to provide comprehensive quality health care for all Americans is immoral. By continuing to ____ to the health insurance and pharmaceutical lobby our politicians have enabled the largest transfer and consolidation of wealth this country has seen.”

These are citizens speaking. Very simple.

“Why are the interests of corporations considered more compelling than the interests of human beings?”

And last, but not least, and then I’m gonna leave, and I thank you ahead of time,

“Please note,” and this is from voters, let this be heard on Capitol Hill, “please note, we are watching how you vote. And who are you with. The American people or greedy executives? How you vote on health care will directly effect who we vote for.”

Thank you very much.

Donna Smith: We should elect him if he stays that brief when he’s elected. Woo hoo!

How many of you came here because you’re connected with Progressive Democrats of America? Woo!

I owe a great deal to this organization. I’m one of the national co-chairs of Healthcare Not Warfare, a campaign that’s fought steadfastly for this nation to stop pouring so much money into killing people and pour money into making people healthy. And at the helm of our organization at PDA is a wonderful guy who works tirelessly and is a leader for all. His name is Tim Carpenter, I’d like to invite him to say a few words.

Tim Carpenter: Thanks everybody. We’re clearly down to the hardcore and I’m proud to be with you. Progressive Democrats of America is part of the coalition that came together. We’re proud to stand with the California Nurses, with all the doctors who are on the frontline with the nurses in Healthcare Now. I want to thank Katie for a great job, Katie Robbins, thank you.

To Donna, who you just saw, who’s been a hero for all of us today, and who stood firmly as part of our campaign for “Healthcare not Warfare,” I want to do this very quickly and I can speak very fast, so I want to just take about three minutes.

You’ve heard some great rhetoric today, you know why you’re hear today, and you’re still here despite the heat. You’re standing there because you believe that a group of people committed to grassroots change can bring about grassroots change. That’s why Congressman Conyers kicked us off today to let us know we needed an inside-outside strategy. We’ve got to leave here in 15 minutes and get into the halls where they’re gonna be voting on the Weiner Amendment on whether they’re gonna adopt [H. R.] 676 into the Democratic plan.

We need to go back to our districts and stop talking to ourselves and start talking to our neighbors and make sure when we come back here that we’re even stronger. Progressive Democrats of America is not the Democratic Party. We’re the Democrats who believe we should hold Barack Obama accountable to get all of U.S. military out of Iraq now, safely and out. We believe, as Democrats, that we have to stop the escalation in Afghanistan. And as you’ve heard, we’re the Democrats who believe it’s time not just to redirect but cut military spending to meet human needs. And to begin with single-payer. Everybody in, nobody out. That’s why we say “healthcare, not warfare.”

Raise your signs, let the President hear you. Healthcare, not warfare! Healthcare, not warfare!

How many of you will go home and help elect Jonathan? How many of you will go home and make sure that Eric Massa and all of our other friends in NY-29 will be walking precincts to make sure he is reelected? And how many of you who’ve come over from Maryland will make sure Donna Edwards is reelected? Because we are the folks that will take back this party. It doesn’t matter if we elect Democrats. It’s only when we elect progressive Democrats and we get a majority can we turn this around.

We’re proud to be with you here today. We look for you in the halls and in the streets. Thank you for all your hard work. Please go by take all your leaflets and signs home. Together we can make a difference. We are making a difference. Thank you.

Donna Smith: … Now, we have a group thats waited so patiently, but they’re good at waiting patiently to make a lot of noise. And they’ve taught us all a lot about protest over the last few years, haven’t they?

Code Pink is an amazingly powerful group of people who stand for justice and peace in this world. And at the helm is Medea Benjamin, a wonderful woman, who’s melting, I’m sure, and up she comes with a bunch of Code Pink folks.

Medea Benjamin: Well, some people say “How come Code Pink, an antiwar group, is lobbying for single-payer health care?” And we say “Because we love life.” And we also say we have a lot in common with everybody that’s fighting for single-payer health care. Let’s see what we have in common.

Do you want your tax dollars going to the insurance companies?

Do you want your tax dollars going to the pharmaceutical industry?

Do you want your tax dollars going to the war profiteers?

Do you want to be funding endless war in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Do you want to fund this new technology of drones that are going into Pakistan, killing more civilians, making more people hate us?

“Hell, no” is the right answer to that. “Hell, no” is what we got to tell these people in Congress. “Hell, no” is what we’ve got to tell the peace candidate we voted into the White House.

We want our troops home and we want single-payer health care.

So let’s be loud and clear. We’ve got the month of August. The right-wing thinks it’s got the month of August to nix everything we care about, but we like the month of August, too, right? Cause it’s the time we’re gonna go to our homes, and we’re gonna go visit our Congresspeople, and we’re gonna tell them loud and clear: Healthcare, not warfare! Healthcare, not Warfare! Healthcare, not Warfare!

Code Pink members singing as they leave the stage:

When we have healthcare, instead of warfare
When we have healthcare, instead of warfare
Oh, how I want to be in that number
When we have healthcare, instead of warfare


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  1. […] By Jeff Stein for Vox. Abve photo: John Conyers (D-MI) in DC in 2009 (Progressive Fox). […]

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