Health care activists demand improved Medicare for all (with video)

CHICAGO – On Halloween weekend, executives at Blue Cross Blue Shield’s 57-story building in Chicago were given quite a fright. 300 doctors, nurses, and activists from all around the country gathered at the foot of the gaudy monument corporate greed to proclaim their resolve to once and for all rid the healthcare sector of the profit motive.

It doesn’t take much to imagine an executive steeling himself to the sight of activists carrying signs that read “healthcare yes! Insurance companies NO!,” chortling at his own discomfort. The battle they engaged through their lobbyists for the soul of what would become the Affordable Care Act left the private health insurance markets intact. Not only that, but it added millions of new customers to their rolls.

The Affordable Care Act, according to the marchers who were in Chicago to participate in the 2014 Single-Payer Strategy Conference, missed the roots of America’s healthcare problem.  According to Campaign for a Healthy California, a coalition represented at the conference, the ACA “retains our fragmented financial system, making it impossible to control costs.”

In fact, all but six states saw an increase in premiums in the year 2014. More folks are insured, yes, but perhaps insurance as we know it isn’t the answer. (story continues after video)

Philip Verhoef, a physician at the University of Chicago, spoke with People’s World on some of the common sense benefits that a single payer system would provide working doctors:

“A single payer system would be simple. Physicians spend an inordinate amount of time trying to understand this system, whether the test or medication they order is an option for their patient. Under a single payer system, there’s more transparency and more administrative simplicity.”

Verhoef also sees decisions being made by insurance companies rather than by doctors. He describes it as being “handcuffed” by these companies in what they can ultimately do for their patients.

“We are actually not ‘free practitioners,’ I view the only way to be a free practitioner, to do what I want to do, is if we have a system akin to Medicare. It’s so easy to take care of Medicare patients. They may have complicated problems but I don’t face the same kind of barriers.”

“As a society, we’ve already made a decision to fund essential services via the government. Certainly we all deserve healthcare,” said Martha Kuhl, Secretary Treasurer of National Nurses United, “still, there are those who really try to scare people. Do not confuse our multiple private insurers for healthcare, they are in the business for profit.”

National Nurses United is one of the few national unions to have endorsed Democratic candidate-for-president Bernie Sanders because he’s the only one who has endorsed moving toward expanding Medicare into a single-payer program. A plurality in the crowd at the rally bore some kind of Sanders badges, stickers or flyers.

It wasn’t only healthcare professionals on hand. Also speaking at the rally was Tom Conway, vice president of the United Steelworkers.

“We have a broken payment system. This building is a testament to the kind of money that it rakes in and keeps for itself. When you can keep 20 cents on the dollar in profit, and don’t deliver healthcare for it, that truly is blood money… This ‘cartel of the blues is sucking the life out of the middle-class,” he said to cacophonous cheers.

Great solidarity was on display at the rally but, given that the ACA is only five years old, the question must be asked: Is healthcare for all an actionable issue right now? Acknowledgement of the problems with the ACA is almost strictly partisan as Democrats rally behind the president in the face of a furious but fractious GOP.

Sanders, as the insurgent candidate, is hoping to make hay out of the very real shortcomings of the ACA in a way that doesn’t alienate Dems who may be new to his message. Is the political will there to engage in another healthcare fight there? That depends on the continued resolve of the people who were at the foot of that blue-steel building in downtown and the outcome of their conference and others like it.

Video: Scott Marshall/PW

Photo: Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower reflected in Chicago’s famous “Cloud Gate” (“the bean”) with healthcare activists from across the country.   |  Patrick J. Foote/PW


Patrick J. Foote
Patrick J. Foote

Patrick Foote writes occasionally for People's World. At the University of Central Florida, he worked with the Student Labor Action Project organizing around the intersection of student and worker issues. He would go on to work in the labor movement in such organizations as Central Florida Jobs with Justice, AFSCME Council 79, and OUR Walmart.