SEQUIM, Wash. — Nearly 700 people packed the Sequim High School auditorium Aug. 25 to cheer calls by Oregon-based “Mad As Hell Doctors” for universal single-payer health care.
The five physicians launched their nationwide “care-a-van” to Washington, D.C., here with a scathing critique of the current profit-driven health care system and called for passage of HR 676, the “Medicare for all” bill sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and 76 others. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised a floor vote on the measure this fall. They showed a 15-minute clip of their 48-minute documentary, “Health, Money and Fear.”
Singer Bob Wickline led the crowd in singing, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.” A line in the song slams lawmakers who serve “special interests,” concluding, “it’s time to let them know our interests are special too.”
The Reform Health Care Now Coalition, local sponsor of the event, had braced for right-wing hecklers. But the coalition that includes the League of Woman Voters, Clallam County Democrats, the Green Party, Veterans for Peace and other pro-reform organizations, mobilized for weeks to turn out a friendly crowd. The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades and the Service Employees International Union also helped mobilize.
People came in droves, lining up an hour before the doors opened. There was not a single incident of heckling in the nearly three-hour meeting that included heart-rending testimonials from people in the audience.
One woman, fighting back tears, told the meeting she has breast cancer and has been rejected for coverage by all private insurance companies. Her COBRA coverage ran out and now she pays a ruinous $1,200 monthly premium for coverage under a program offered by the state of Washington for the “uninsurable.”
Another young woman said her father has Medicare Part A but not Part B. She rushed him to the Olympic Medical Center with a medical emergency this spring. The “fine print” on the admissions form committed her father to pay the entire bill within 30 days, impossible on his limited income. She had to drive him to Seattle to get care.
A woman told the crowd she has rheumatoid arthritis, a degenerative disease, and fears losing her job and being unable to afford medication to slow the progress of the disease.
Each of the doctors was asked to explain why he or she was “mad as hell.”
Dr. Michael Huntington, a retired radiation-oncology physician, said diagnostic tests are so expensive it discourages people from regular checkups. “People show up at the emergency room with advanced cancer and there’s nothing we could do. It made me mad as hell.”
Dr. Joseph Eusterman, a retired internal medicine physician, told the crowd that quality, affordable health care is “one of the four freedoms” yet tens of millions are denied coverage by the health care insurance profiteers. He blasted them for sowing fear and hysteria to block reform. “We don’t need any more fear in this country,” he said. “I’m mad as hell about all the fearmongering.”
Dr. Penny Burdick of Sequim challenged the Oregon doctors. “Why are there no women on the panel?” she demanded. The doctors, on the spot, invited her to come to the stage and she did. She told the meeting, “People can’t afford to get reasonable insurance. Many insurance companies don’t even cover preventive medicine.” She said she has given up her office in frustration and now makes house calls, virtually unheard of in current medical practice.
Dr. Bob Seward, a retired physician from Forest Grove, Ore., said it makes him “mad as hell” that the insurance companies and the corporate media spread the lie that health care reform is “socialized medicine.” He paused and retorted, “What if it is?” The crowd burst into applause. He pointed out that both Britain and Spain have socialized medicine and the people “love their system.”
Dr. Paul Hochfeld, an emergency room physician from Corvallis, Ore., and the producer of the “Health, Money, and Fear” film, said he is mad because Congress is basing health care reform on “protecting corporate interests” and insurance company and pharmaceutical profits rather than the needs of the people.
Hochfeld dismissed President Obama’s public option, concluding, “We’re not going to solve this by throwing more money at the insurance industry.”
But Dr. Tom Locke, public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson Counties, had a different view.
Locke, who is also medical director of the Volunteers in Medicine in the Olympic Clinic that serves the nearly 10,000 people here without health insurance, pointed out that President Theodore Roosevelt pushed for health care reform in 1912. “The same appeals to fear have been used over and over again,” Locke said. He warned that reform will not be won with a single magic bullet but will be won step by step over time.
While he acknowledged that single-payer is the best solution, the public option may be the best that can be won with the current lineup in Congress, he said, arguing that it is a step toward a single-payer system.
“The partisan rancor in Washington D.C. is at an all-time high,” Locke said.
The doctors will launch their 20-city “care-a-van” in Seattle Sept. 8 and end with a rally in Washington, D.C., Sept. 28.
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