HOUSTON — About 1,000 medical students and their supporters rallied here at city hall March 14 to demand healthcare for all. The event was organized by the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as part of its annual convention and supported by the local SEIU and Justice for Janitors movement.
The crowd was made up of medical students from around the country and labor union members. Participants were diverse and included men and women of all ethnic and cultural groups. One speaker called for a “revolution in health care.” Many speakers and attendees asserted that “we should be able to treat patients without bias as regards to their ability to pay.”
Participants at the opening of the rally chanted, “Hey, Bush, don’t you know, single payer is the way to go…Whose nation? Our nation.”
Houston City Council Member Peter Brown (D) called for people to register to vote and change the political landscape in the upcoming elections. He noted that Houston has the most advanced medical technology in the country and the “lousiest health care in the country” due to poor access to health care. He called for a movement to “fix the broken system.”
Speakers extolled the solidarity of workers and students participating in the rally.
Two fourth-year medical students from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Jessica Dalby and Stephanie Wuest, expressed strong support for the goals of the rally.
Dalby stated, “I think it’s inspiring. I support a single payer health insurance system. I think single payer is the only way to go because we have to cut out the health insurance companies. They provide no benefit. They only add to the cost. Thirty-one cents of every dollar goes to overhead for the health insurance companies.”
Dalby and Wuest agreed that the increasing profits demanded by health insurance companies and their stockholders also add to the burden of health care costs.
“I have the Baylor insurance and I’ve been refused health care in doctor’s offices because Aetna never pays,” Wuest said. “I find it extremely frustrating to be in health care and I am not able to access health care myself.”
One medical student from Puerto Rico who was attending the conference told the World, “I think health care is for everybody. We should help everybody.”
Leah Bennett, who is the Health Disparities Task Force coordinator for AMSA and a medical student at the University of Arizona at Tucson, told the World, “We’re an association of 70,000 medical students from across the country. We have a 40 year history of fighting for our patients.”
She called for “quality affordable health care,” and said, “We believe health care is a human right. In this country we have so much. We believe no one should be sick when they don’t need to be.”
Bennett added, “We believe our current health care system is broken. There are over 40 million people uninsured. They have to make a decision over whether they spend their money on food, rent or seeing a doctor. We think that’s wrong.
“Our association is in favor of a single payer system. That would cover everyone within our border regardless of income, race, citizenship or economic status,” she concluded. “We believe you should be able to see a doctor if you’re sick.”
Medical student Flavio Casoy, an organizer of the event who works with AMSA, described some of AMSA’s history. “AMSA used to be a part of AMA (American Medical Association) until 1968,” he said.
He noted, “Because of the AMA opposition to Medicare and silence on civil rights and silence on Vietnam, we split. We are completely independent.
“AMSA is a student-run organization that fights for a health care system that reflects the true needs of our patients and the values of our members,” Casoy added. “We represent about two-thirds of the nation’s medical students. We want to let the world know that this nation’s future doctors are pissed off and we will fight like hell to change the health care system. AMSA is all about bringing the future health care providers together around our passions to provide health care for all our patients.”
James Thompson is a psychologist and social justice activist in Houston.