Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, the insurance industry-friendly Democrat who is managing show hearings on healthcare reform, has come up with a novel way to express his commitment to care for the almost 50 million Americans who have no healthcare and roughly equal number who have inadequate care.
The senior senator from Montana is ordering the arrest of doctors and nurses.
Medical practitioners who have shown up at Baucus-chaired “roundtable discussions” to demand consideration of a real fix — the single-payer, genuinely-public reform that assures all Americans will have health care while at the same time holding down costs — are being taken into custody and removed from the hearing rooms.
At the first Finance Committee session last week, Dr. Margaret Flowers and seven others were taken into custody when they urged Baucus to include witnesses who support single-payer.
Dr. Flowers discussed her arrest on Ed Schultz’s MSNBC show, explaining that physicians, nurses and reform groups representing more than 20 million Americans had repeatedly asked to be heard by Baucus and his colleagues.
But the answer from Baucus, who has been charged by the Obama administration with shaping a health-care plan, has been to call in the cops.
“They just don’t want to hear from single-payer,” explained Dr. Flowers, a pediatrician from Maryland. “We’ve been trying for months now, meeting with members of Congress, to be included in the hearings at the events that they are holding and they keep excluding us.”
After reviewing the details of the Baucus overreaction, Schultz asked: “President Obama: Do you support excluding people from the discussion?”
Obama has not responded.
But Baucus has.
On Tuesday, at the second Finance Committee session, dozens of California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee members and their allies showed up to protest the heavy-handed tactics. At the opening of the hearing, roughly thirty of them rose and turned their backs to Baucus. On their backs were signs reading: “Pass Single-Payer” and “Nurses Say: Patients First.” Other signs, reading “Stop AHIP,” protested the collaboration by the Obama administration and Baucus with the country’s most powerful industry lobby, the America’s Health Insurance Plans group.
While the health-insurance lobby has been welcomed to the roundtable discussions organized by Baucus, the nurses and their allies were told to leave. When five objected to their exclusion from the hearing, and to the the exclusion of single-payer from the debate about how to fix a broken private healthcare system, they were arrested. Among those taken into custody were Dr. Judy Dasovich, Dr. Steven Fenichel and California nurses DeAnn McEwen and Sue Cannon.
Their crime? As healthcare professionals, they dared to dissent from the Baucus-led attempt to impose an insurance company approved plan under the guise of “reform.”
Dr. Dasovich, a physician from Springfield, Missouri, dared to say, “We request that single-payer advocates be allowed at the table. Healthcare should be for patients, not for profits.” Nurse Cannon said, “People at the table have failed Americans for 30 years. We want single-payer at the table. We want guaranteed health care so we can give the care we need, when we need to give it.”
When the doctors, nurses and their allies left the Capitol, activist David Swanson reported, members of the CNA/NNOC, Progressive Democrats of American, Code Pink and allied single-payer advocates chanted: “Lock Up Baucus!” and hoisted a sign reading: “Most Physicians Want a Single-Payer National Health System.”
At the White House, reporter Helen Thomas asked Obama administration spokesman Robert Gibbs: “Did anyone represent single-payer at this meeting today?”
“Well, I don’t think it was a full meeting of those that might be at the table,” the scrambling spokesman said. “I believe that people of varying opinions have been here for different meetings, have been part of the larger healthcare reform summit that was done earlier this year, and I don’t doubt that in the coming days differing viewpoints about how to achieve cost savings in increased coverage will be part of that discussion.”
If that sounded like a dodge, it was.
But single-payer advocates weren’t fooled.
They’re raising the banner of real reform higher, with events such as Tuesday’s Florence Nightingale Day Protest organized by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee and Physicians for a National Health Program. Explained CNA/NNOC: “May 12 is Florence Nightingale’s Birthday – an opportunity to honor her advocacy of healthcare by protesting Congressional hearings that have been stacked in favor of the big insurance companies while silencing the voices of nurses and doctors who favor guaranteed healthcare, as in a single-payer, expanded Medicare-for-all system with a single standard of quality care.”
Those physicians and nurses groups, along with Progressive Democrats of America and other members of the Leadership Conferences for Guaranteed Health Care rallied Wednesday with feature key congressional advocates for single-payer healthcare, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Michigan Congressman John Conyers, as well as CNA/NNOC executive director Rose Ann DeMoro, Dr. Flowers and actor Mike Farrell.
The rally was held at Washington’s Upper Senate Park, a location outside the Capitol where doctors and nurses are able to talk about curing what ails American healthcare without facing arrest.