My fellow Big Apple resident Katie Robbins is one of the lucky few able to make organizing and movement-building a full time job. She’s worked on projects with Food Not Bombs in her hometown Akron, Ohio, advocated for family rights through Head Start, and is credited with organizing and directing the first community-based production of The Vagina Monologues to Seoul, Korea (where the bilingual production is still being performed annually by both Korean and foreigner actresses and activists). But while any of those credits would be worthy of a discussion, none of them are specifically why I’m interviewing her here. This conversation relates to her important work with Healthcare-NOW!
Healthcare-NOW! -- with chapters and networks working for national health care in almost every state in the union -- is a single-issue campaign supporting the movement for a single-payer, national, guaranteed healthcare plan in the United States. Healthcare-NOW’s mission is to eliminate health care injustice in the United States by implementing Bill HR 676 (introduced by Representative John Conyers).
Katie and I exchanged e-mails over the course of two days and here’s how it went:
Mickey Z: It seems no one (outside of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, of course) is happy with America's market-driven health care system. Do you think the country -- particularly in light of the current economic crisis -- is finally ready to embrace single-payer as a logical alternative?
Katie Robbins: Yes, the country is absolutely ready ... and we've got the polling to prove it. According to an Associated Press poll in December 2007, 65 percent responded that the United States should adopt a universal health insurance program in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare. Another poll-side victory was celebrated this year when a study showed a solid majority of doctors -- 59 percent -- now support national health insurance. The current free-market health system in the United States is ruled by health care disparities, waste, and greed that results in poor health care outcomes. A single-payer, Medicare-for-all system provides a simple, effective, and morally-just alternative.
MZ: In response to such support, heavily funded corporate interests have worked long and hard to portray single-payer as socialized medicine that will result in rationed care, long lines, no choice in terms of doctors, and bureaucratic nightmares (which, ironically, describes what we have now). Can you tell us why this is nothing but a smear campaign?
KR: Ah yes, the "S" word ... mentioning socialized medicine has proved a successful method of striking fear into the hearts of the American people. The unfortunate reality is that the health care nightmare is right here at home. We are ranked 37th in the world for our health care system, and we have a higher infant mortality rate than countries like Cyprus and Slovenia. While it is true that the United States has access to the best health care technology in the world, U.S. residents also experience the most extreme form of rationing because health care is only available to those who can pay for it. Financial barriers to care prevent over one-third of the people from accessing needed care resulting in thousands of unnecessary deaths each year. The current system functions with insurance bureaucrats sitting behind desks to advise health care professionals how to treat their patients. People are dying before they get the approval for needed care. Each denial results in direct profits for the insurance companies. A single-payer system (not socialized medicine) removes profit from health care allowing people to choose any doctor in the country and will provide accurate, streamlined payment for quality care delivered in a timely fashion to everyone ... while simultaneously saving money.
MZ: In the face of an economic crisis, Congress was able to come up with a plan for $700 billion to do something that the architects of the bailout plan claim will protect the American people. A local news station reported that the amount for the bailout equates to 2,000 apple pies from McDonald's for every person in the United States. Your thoughts?
KR: It would take a lot less apple pie to provide comprehensive health coverage to everyone in the United States. There have been countless cost-benefit analyses done on HR 676, and every time the savings is a staggering amount somewhere between $70 billion and $350 billion in the first year of implementation. Savings that will go directly to the people who are currently paying outrageous healthcare premiums, copays, and deductibles: individuals, families, schools, city, county, and state government, small businesses, and more. Under HR 676, the savings wouldn't first go through Wall Street where profits are skimmed off the top, leaving less for the people of the United States. We need to tell our elected officials that health care is the economy, and that we can't afford not to have single-payer national health insurance.
MZ: Okay, let’s say you reach enough Americans with this kind of information -- you energize and motivate them to take control of their health and health care -- we’d still have two major party candidates refusing to consider single-payer. How can someone reading this interview work for universal, accessible, affordable health care outside of the current electoral farce?
KR: Great question. Waiting for a president to get elected on a single-payer platform is pretty ... unlikely. Regardless of the Nov. 4th outcomes, we need a Congress in place that will be courageous enough to pass this much-needed legislation. History shows us that any window of opportunity for national health insurance has slammed shut only to be loosened up again every 10-20 years or so. Why does this cycle keep repeating itself? Consistently missing from each historical opportunity for health care reform is a massive groundswell directly from the people demanding change. People have been working on single-payer health care reform for decades, but no matter how many health professionals or policy wonks support the idea, without pressure on elected officials coming from their constituency, nothing will change for the better. If you want to contribute to working for real health care reform, join the movement. Make your voice heard. Vote for single-payer candidates. Find a list of candidates we are tracking here. Get a group of people in your district to visit your representative. Make your elected officials nervous. Show them the polls of support for single-payer. Healthcare-NOW! has used a variety of different techniques to create more momentum behind HR 676. A coordinated Day of Protest was held on June 19th, 2008. People took to the streets in front of almost 20 different insurance companies around the country. Healthcare-NOW! has sponsored hundreds of Truth Hearings around the country where people gather town-hall meeting style with elected officials to hear the stories directly from the people who have experienced injustice in health care. As a result of these and other concentrated actions, HR 676, the National Health Insurance Act, has 91 congressional cosponsors - more than any health care reform legislation to date. Even better, Healthcare-NOW! is a bottom-up movement meaning that the network of activists develop the actions taken each year at our national strategy conference. So join us!
To learn more, contact Katie Robbins and Healthcare-NOW!
Upcoming nationwide events
Also, New Yorkers, mark your calendars:
*Poets for Healthcare: A Benefit*
November 10 @ 8pm
The Poetry Project at St. Marks Church
131 E. 10th St., NYC
email@example.com / 212-674-0910
$8 general admission