On Thursday, Sam Pullen was arrested at the Los Angeles offices of the insurance giant Blue Cross. He refused to give his information to police and vowed to remain in prison until Blue Cross agreed to hear demands that it stop denying doctor-recommended medical treatment to seriously ill patients. Despite his resistance, Pullen was finally ordered released from jail on Monday, against his will. In protesting Blue Shield, Sam Pullen was following in the footsteps of his late mother, who was diagnosed with cancer when he was a teenager. Leanna Bell staged a one-person sit-in in front of Blue Cross after the company denied her coverage for a bone marrow transplant. Blue Cross gave in, and the transplant helped extend her life for several years. [includes rush transcript]
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SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The congressional debate over healthcare reform has moved behind closed doors. Over the past week, lawmakers and White House officials have met privately to merge different committee measures into one bill for each chamber. It remains unclear if final legislation will even include a pared-down, government-backed public insurance option. But that hasn’t stopped activists from continuing to call for more substantial changes to the nation’s healthcare system.
Last Thursday, at least fifty-four people were arrested during nationwide sit-ins in front of the offices of health insurance companies. The group Mobilization for Health Care for All organized the protests in cities including New York, Washington, Phoenix, Palm Beach, Portland, Boston, Cleveland and Reno.
AMY GOODMAN: Our next guest was among those who took part in the day of protest. But unlike the dozens of others who got arrested, he remained in jail throughout the weekend until Monday evening. Sam Pullen was arrested at the Los Angeles offices of the insurance giant Blue Cross. He refused to give his information to police and vowed to remain in prison until Blue Cross agreed to hear demands that it stop denying doctor-recommended medical treatment to seriously ill patients. Despite his resistance, Sam Pullen was finally ordered released from jail on Monday, against his will.
In protesting Blue Shield, Sam Pullen was following in the footsteps of his late mother, who was diagnosed with cancer when he was a teenager. Leanna Bell staged a one-person sit-in in front of Blue Cross after the company denied her coverage for a bone marrow transplant. Blue Cross gave in. The transplant helped extend her life for several years.
Sam Pullen joins us now via Democracy Now!
video stream from Los Angeles. This is his first interview since his release from jail on Monday night.
Sam, welcome to Democracy Now! Just tell us what happened. Tell us what made you decide to go sit in front of Blue Cross, Blue Shield.
SAM PULLEN: Thanks very much, Amy.
I participated in the sit-in on October 15th, because I believe that healthcare is a right and should be available for all of us, And the insurance companies are really the death panels that are affecting our loved ones [inaudible] people by denying care and trying to kill the reform that’s being discussed in the Congress, as well.
And my mother experienced that personally when Blue Cross denied her coverage for her bone marrow transplant. After she had gone through radiation and chemotherapy, she was told that a bone marrow transplant was the only thing that could save her life. And when she was denied by Blue Cross, she went to Blue Cross offices and demanded that they cover her. And they — and she said to the representative, “What would you do if it was you who was sick with cancer? Wouldn’t you do everything you could, if you could have a few more years with your children?” So, she inspired me to stand up.
And I believe there’s an important message for the American people, because so many people have been affected by the insurance companies. Almost everyone has a horror story of being denied coverage. And right now, my message to the listeners is that we don’t have to suffer in silence. It’s important for everyone who believes that we need [inaudible] reform to join our movement. Our web page is www.mobilizeforhealthcare.org, and there you can see that we have people signing up across the country who are fed up with the way that the insurance companies are interfering with our [inaudible] healthcare.
AMY GOODMAN: Sam, how old were you when your mother led her one-woman protest?
SAM PULLEN: I was about fifteen or sixteen years old [inaudible] about thirteen years ago. And when she sat in, she, you know, let the insurance company know that she wasn’t going to back down. You know, her life was on the line. And that’s what motivated me to not just participate in the sit-in, but go to jail and to not give my name, exercise my right to remain silent. And because of that, I was kept in jail over the weekend, over ninety-six hours in jail.
And, you know, the reason that I’m doing this is because I believe that it’s time that, you know, Congress listen to the people of the United States, not the insurance companies. We need to stand up to the insurance companies. And, you know, our priority is to have a healthcare system that places patients before profits. You know, we need to have a system that’s a Medicare-for-all program, and I believe that our job as a movement is to shift the political landscape so that we can have a real healthcare system that will meet the needs of the people.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And explain what happened on Monday night. You did not want to be released? You were forcibly released from prison?
SAM PULLEN: That’s right. I went into jail with the demand that Blue Cross immediately approve doctor-requested treatment for anyone with a life-threatening condition. And I was prepared to stay in jail until I got a meeting with Blue Cross. But last night I was not even put before a judge. Every day that I was in jail, there was momentum building for the support of our cause. We had lots of media coverage. We had people signing up across the country. And in the end, I was discharged against my will. The charges were dropped. There was no bail. And therefore, you know, I [inaudible] it was a real victory for our movement to show that they knew that I was more powerful in jail than I would have been on the outside.
So, right now we’re asking other people to do the same. On October 28th, there’s going to be a series of sit-ins across the country. Right now there’s over twenty cities where people have already signed up and are planning actions. And we’re asking people to join in and be part of a sit-in. If you go to our webpage — it’s www.mobilizeforhealthcare.org — and on there you can sign the pledge, you can sign up to get arrested, plan a sit-in in your own city. And we believe that this is going to be one of the largest campaigns of civil disobedience that we’ve seen since the civil rights movement. And my hope is that people across the country will join with us in doing these sit-ins so that a very clear message is given, that the American people will no longer let insurance companies stand between us and the healthcare the we deserve. So, we just ask people to join us in the movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Sam, the Washington Post, ABC did a poll that said now 57 percent — it’s growing, number of people — in this country want a public option. Is that enough for you?
SAM PULLEN: Well, I’m also one of the 57 million who’s uninsured. I’ve been affected by not having insurance. And I believe that everyone should be covered by healthcare, and that should be a basic right. We need a system that is based on providing care to patients, not on profits. I think that Medicare for all is the best system for that. And that’s why we’re asking people to join us on October 28th and keep this movement going. Join us in planning a sit-in. Go in there and be strong. Be prepared to go to jail. And know that every person who makes that sacrifice is going to inspire others to join the cause. And I believe this is what it’s going to take in order to actually win healthcare reform for all.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sam, I think your mother would be very proud. Do you think progress has been made in this country since she sat down in front of Blue Cross as she was suffering from cancer?
SAM PULLEN: Well, I know that my mother would be proud of me, but I believe that this is the critical moment, when we have an opportunity to [inaudible] for all. This has been a struggle that’s been going on for [inaudible]. Generations of Americans have fought for this. And now is the time when we need to put our bodies on the line. We need to be willing to fight for health insurance. And we’re not going to stop until we win that, until we win healthcare for all.
AMY GOODMAN: Sam, thanks very much for being with us from Los Angeles, just out of jail after five days, arrested last week at a sit-in organized by Mobilization for Health Care for All at the offices of the insurance giant Blue Cross in Los Angeles. He was released last night.