Between the Lines Q&A
featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release May 16, 2009
Distributed by Squeaky Wheel Productions
Single-Payer Healthcare Advocates Protesting Exclusion from Congressional Debate Arrested
Interview with Dr. Margaret Flowers,
co-chairman of the Maryland chapter
conducted by Scott Harris
Barack Obama is conducting meetings with health insurance executives and Congress is holding hearings in order to fulfill the president's campaign pledge to pass legislation that will reform the U.S. healthcare system, where more than 47 million Americans have no . But there is growing frustration among advocates of single-payer health insurance, as both the president and Congress have attempted to exclude the option of government-run health coverage from being included in the national debate.
Two recent protests on Capitol Hill by single-payer healthcare activists, including doctors and nurses, have resulted thus far in 13 arrests. On May 12, two doctors, two nurses and one patient activist were charged with "Disruption of Congress" by Capitol Police when the five vocally demanded that Congress pass a single-payer system during a Senate Finance Committee healthcare reform roundtable. Dominating the Senate proceedings were experts with ties to the for-profit, private health insurance industry.
The first protest of this type occurred on May 5, before the same Senate committee, when eight protesters rose out of their seats in the hearing room and asked why single-payer advocates were being prevented from participating in the panel. Sen. Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, has previously stated that the single-payer option is "off the table" in the current health care reform
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: It was the second in a series of three public roundtable discussions that the Senate Finance Committee is holding on and in the week leading up to that roundtable, we knew who had been invited to speak, and it was primarily those who represent the health insurance industry and big business, and the ones who support their agenda. So we had asked if they would include a single-payer advocate at the roundtable and in addition, we actually did a phone-in campaign and fax campaign that sent thousands of faxes and phone calls to the offices with the same request. But they refused to invite one single-payer advocate to speak at the roundtable. So, we felt like we really didn't have a choice if we wanted our voice to be heard.
So we went down there, eight of us. We were all single-payer advocates, we were all knowledgeable about single-payer, and one by one, we asked to have a seat at the table, and one by one, we were arrested and taken out of the committee room.
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: Right. There's a huge disconnect, because we know in many independent polls that the public wants a national health program like the other industrialized nations have. They want a single-payer program, and so do healthcare providers. And we really hoped with the election of President Obama that we would see a change in the way Washington politics occur. So we've been meeting with members of Congress for months now, talking to them just asking to be included. But what it comes down to is on the policy, if you compared a national health program based on single-payer financing to any of the reforms that they're considering right now, single-payer would win. It saves money, it includes everybody, it improves health outcomes, it allows doctors and patients to make medical decisions instead of insurance companies. But we know how much money ... the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries are the highest campaign donors that there are.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I've heard about some anti-national health care ads that are airing or being prepared to run around the country. It plays on people's fear of a government bureaucracy denying them treatment for this or that disease, or rationing, or waiting endlessly for essential treatment or medical care. Do you think the American people will be vulnerable to this campaign of fear, that somehow government health care insurance would equal disaster in their personal lives?
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: You know I hope that they aren't. I hope that people will educate themselves this time. Because really you know, it's completely the opposite. If you look at the evidence, the public programs do much better, in terms of when you have a public health facility and a private, the public health facility actually does better in terms of outcomes, and provides care for a lower cost.
And we know that we have rationing in this country already; we just ration based on ability to pay. There's no real public debate about what we want to do as a country when it comes to health, it's just all about whether you can afford it or not. I hope that people will talk to each other and really learn about this issue.