Seattle crowd: ‘Medicare for All! Everybody in, nobody out!’
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., addresses the crowd in Seattle. | Tim Wheeler / People's World

SEATTLE—A big crowd at the Federal Building here on Aug. 1 cheered and applauded as Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and others blasted medical insurance companies for reaping billions from fraudulent overcharges to the Medicare Trust Fund while denying urgently needed care for millions of patients.

The rally sponsored by PSARA (Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action) and their allies celebrated the 58th birthday of Medicare and Medicaid signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 30, 1965.

A giant banner held by protesters in front of the Federal Building read, “Stop Raiding Our Medicare.” Another held by Backbone protesters dressed in black read, “Merchants of Death.”

Jayapal told the crowd she is proud to be the lead sponsor of a bill “Medicare for All” to expand Medicare coverage to the entire population.

Tim Wheeler / People’s World

“Medical debt is ruining the lives of millions,” Jayapal declared. “Medicare is under threat. I want to make one thing clear: I will fight Medicare privatization tooth and nail!”

She added, “Medicare Advantage is privatizing Medicare and we will not stand for it… Just recognize that if we took the $41 billion—with a ‘b’—that the Medicare Advantage program overcharges the government, we could plow that back into expanding Medicare. We could afford dental and vision. We could eliminate co-pays and deductibles instead of subsidizing private insurance companies.”

Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Washington, D.C.-based Social Security Works, asked the crowd, “Why does the United States have the shortest life expectancy of any developed nation in the world?”

“Lack of health care!” the crowd shouted back in unison.

“The latest scandal?” Lawson declared, “It is $75 billion in overpayments. That’s a shame on our country! We are up against evil! People who kill people for profit. They are allowed to delay and deny care. That is what Medicare Disadvantage is doing.”

Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who served ten years on the staff of the AFL-CIO, said Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are key benefits in a democratic society, vital to equalizing income in a country with a handful of billionaires and the rest struggling to survive.

“Equality…guess who hates that?” Mosqueda said. “Corporations, capitalism, CEOs, billionaires, private insurance companies, and those venture capitalists.”

The crowd erupted in boos.

“That is so wrong in the richest country in the entire world. You can see through that corporate greed.”

She led them in a chant: “Medicare for All! Everybody in, Nobody out!”

PSARA Co-President Jeff Johnson, former president of the Washington Labor Council, chaired the rally. He pointed to a purple papier mache octopus sitting on the sidewalk, each of its tentacles labeled with the name of one of the Medicare Advantage providers. One of them was Amazon’s One Medical.

“Amazon spent more than $4 billion buying One Medical.” Now, he added, the corporate giant is reaping millions in profits from One Medical. And soon, Johnson added, there will be $1.6 trillion in the Medicare Trust Fund money Amazon and other Wall Street firms are scheming to get their greedy tentacles on.

Claude Burfect, a leader of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), charged that Medicare privatization is stripping millions of their right to health care. He blasted President Donald Trump’s so-called Medicare “Direct Contracting Entities” (DCEs), renamed and re-packaged as “ACO REACH” by the Biden administration. Both opened the door wide for the private takeover of Medicare by private, for-profit outfits, he charged.

Cindy Domingo, a Filipina leader of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, praised PSARA. “Power concedes nothing without a struggle and that is why we are here today,” said Domingo. “We need to stop the overcharging of these private insurance companies that totaled $75 billion… We must educate our communities about the fight for Medicare for All.”

Bryce Walker, a fourth-year student at the University of Washington Medical School and a youth representative of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), said he has seen 2,000 patients ranging from infants and children to senior citizens afflicted with cancer or other lethal diseases.

Tim Wheeler / People’s World

He said he is moved by their “grace.” Not one of them “told me how they love their private health insurance,” he said. “These enormous corporations are reaping profits from publicly-funded health care dollars.”

A delegation led by PSARA Co-President, Karen Richter, went up to meet in the office of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Cantwell was not present, but the delegation met with Cantwell’s senior staff adviser, Josie McKinley.

After the delegation returned, Richter told the crowd, “It was a pretty good meeting.” McKinley had never heard of PSARA, said Richter, but after McKinley had agreed to meet with the delegation, she read every edition of the Retiree Advocate newsletter, which is filled with commentaries on the menace posed to Medicare by runaway privatization.

Dr. Jaisri Lingappa, a specialist in infectious diseases from Port Townsend, was in the delegation that met with the Cantwell aide. She urged the crowd to “keep up the struggle because his fight is a long-term fight.”

Richard Timmins, a retired veterinarian from Whidbey Island, also joined the delegation. A leader of PSARA, Timmins’ referral to a dermatologist to examine a lump on his ear lobe was rejected by his MA provider, Premera. It metastasized into skin cancer.

“Ms. McKinley was very receptive,” Timmins told this reporter. “She had read our articles about Medicare privatization. I was able to tell my story. She told us they know that this is an issue. But the staff cannot get a statement from Cantwell about privatization.”

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Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.