Advocates of single-payer universal healthcare — the system favored by most Americans — continue to protest their exclusion from discussions on healthcare reform. On Tuesday, five doctors, nurses and single-payer advocates were arrested at a Senate Finance Committee hearing, bringing the total number of arrests in less than a week to thirteen. We speak with two of those arrested: Single Payer Action founder Russell Mokhiber and Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: Baucus’s raucous caucus. Five people were arrested yesterday at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on healthcare reform and charged with “disruption of Congress.” They were protesting Committee chair Senator Max Baucus’s refusal to include any advocates of a single-payer healthcare system in a series of hearings on healthcare. Last week, eight doctors, lawyers and activists were arrested as they sought to put a single-payer advocate at a table of fifteen witnesses. At yesterday’s hearing, none of the thirteen witnesses testifying was an advocate of single payer.
Senator Baucus, a Montana Democrat, opened the hearing on a cautionary note, warning against any disruptions.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: I respect the views of everyone here, including everyone in the audience. And that respect, in turn, means listening and not interrupting when others are speaking. I sincerely hope that everyone here today, including our guests, especially guests in the audience, will afford these proceedings with that level of respect.
AMY GOODMAN: As Senator Baucus spoke, a group of about thirty nurses stood up and turned their backs on him. They wore red scrubs with signs on their backs that said, “Nurses Say: Stop AHIP, Pass Single Payer.” AHIP stands for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a lobby group for the health insurance industry. After standing for a few minutes in silent protest, the nurses walked out of the hearing to applause.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: But the current tax exclusion is not perfect. It is regressive. It often leaves people to buy more health coverage than they need. [applause] We should look at ways to modify — [applause] we should look at ways to modify the current tax exclusion so that it provides the right incentives.
AMY GOODMAN: After the nurses walked out, a group of five doctors, nurses and single-payer advocates stood up one by one and spoke directly to Senator Baucus before being led out by police.
DEANN McEWEN: I am a registered nurse. Registered nurses have a legal duty to advocate to change circumstances that are against the interests and wishes of our patients. Today is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Florence Nightingale said —-
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Committee will be in order. Comments from the audience are inappropriate and out of order. Any further disruption will cause the committee to recess until the police can restore order.
DEANN McEWEN: Florence Nightingale said -— sir —-
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Committee will be in order. Committee will stand in recess until the police can restore order.
DEANN McEWEN: Florence Nightingale said, “Were there none that ever hoped for better, there would never be any better.” Until there’s a single-payer healthcare system in this country, there will never be safety for patients that need access to [inaudible] -—
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: Mr. Chairman —-
SUE CANNON: The people at this table have failed Americans for thirty years.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Committee in order. We will stand in recess until the police can restore order.
SUE CANNON: We want single payer at this table. Healthcare is a human right. We want guaranteed healthcare. No more Blue Cross’s double crosses. We want guaranteed healthcare. No more Aetna or -— thank you. No more Aetna or CIGNA bosses. We want guaranteed healthcare. We want to see our doctors when we need and get our pills that are guaranteed. We’re tired of private insurance greed. We want guaranteed healthcare. In California, SB 810 means guaranteed healthcare. And HR 676 guarantees healthcare.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Let me just speak a few minutes.
JERRY CALL: Senator Baucus, my name is Jerry Call. I’m with PNHP.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Sorry.
JERRY CALL: Sixty percent of Americans —-
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Come to order. Committee will recess until order can be restored.
JERRY CALL: —- and 60 percent of the physicians want a single-payer system. Why do you insist on spending more money, when the single payer would give it to us at the price we’re spending now? Sixty percent! Why not 60 percent of the people in front of you representing single payer? Sixty percent of the people want single payer. This is a sham! All you’ve got is special interest groups up there.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: This committee will recess until the police can restore order. I’ll ask for the police, please come more expeditiously.
DR. JUDY DASOVICH: Why aren’t single-payer advocates at the table? Healthcare should be for patients, not for profit.
DR. STEVEN FENICHEL: My name is Dr. Steven Fenichel. And it is a sense of outrage that brings me to your Senate chambers. You have been entrusted in doing the people’s work, and yet [inaudible] —-
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: We will stay in recess until the police can restore order.
DR. STEVEN FENICHEL: —- special interest groups, the insurance companies, the hospitals for profit —
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: And I’ll say to everybody else out in the audience who may be similarly inclined: believe me, we hear you. We deeply respect the views of everyone here. We have an extremely open process, and I just urge everyone to respect the views of others by not interrupting those who are speaking. There will be plenty of time to meet with everybody. This is a long, involved process. And so, those of you in the audience who are not panelists and wish to be heard, I urge you just to contact my office, and we’ll figure out a way to talk to you. I’ll figure out a way to listen to you. I’ll be there, personally, to listen to you. So I urge you to take that option, rather than interrupt and be rude to our panelists here, who have come a long distance and spent a long time trying to make very thoughtful presentations to the committee. But I will meet with anybody who wants to meet with me.
AMY GOODMAN: All five protesters were arrested outside the hearing room and taken away for booking.
Russell Mokhiber is the founder of the group singlepayeraction.org . It’s been organizing the protests. He was the first person arrested last week at the Senate Finance Committee hearing on healthcare reform.
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: ...in this room right now who are willing to take a seat at that table to testify in favor of Medicare for All, single payer. They should be at the table. You can’t exclude what the majority of Americans want and the majority of doctors want.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Committee will be in order. Committee will stand in recess.
AMY GOODMAN: Russell Mokhiber joins us now from Washington, DC. He’s also editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter. And joining us from Baltimore, Maryland, is Dr. Margaret Flowers. She’s a pediatrician and co-chair of the Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program. She’s speaking today at a rally in Washington, DC, as part of a national day of action for single-payer healthcare. Other speakers include independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Michigan Congress member John Conyers, the chair the House Judiciary Committee.
I want to start with Dr. Margaret Flowers. You were arrested last week, the first doctor to be arrested. Why?
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: Well, for so many years, doctors and nurses have been trying to deliver quality healthcare in this country, and it’s become increasingly difficult. We have tried to have our voice heard. We really requested to Senator Baucus that he include a single-payer advocate at these roundtable discussions, and we were told very clearly that there would be no invitation coming. And so, we felt that and I felt that we couldn’t be silent any longer. We needed to stand up on behalf of our patients, on behalf of our colleagues, and speak out.
AMY GOODMAN: Russell Mokhiber, talk about these actions. So the last week, there have been two Senate Finance Committee hearings, thirteen people arrested. As we just heard, Senator Baucus said, “I will meet with you.” He talked to the people in the audience as he was being interrupted, one after another.
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Well, first of all, good morning, Amy, from corporate-occupied territory, Washington, DC, where the drug companies and the health insurance companies control every nook and cranny. You know, Senator Dick Durbin last week said that the banks own Congress. That, too, where Obama and the corporate Democrats are engaged in what Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, called “the futility of piecemeal tinkering.”
Everybody knows that single payer is going to be here sooner rather than later. The question is, are — sixty Americans die every day from a lack of health insurance, and are we going to get it done sooner rather than later?
So, the problem was that you have this lockdown on Capitol Hill, where the corporations, the health insurance industry is in control. Senator Baucus has had twenty-eight witnesses over the span of these two hearings, not one of which was a single-payer advocate.
And as Dr. Flowers said, the majority of Americans, majority of doctors support single payer. Get rid of the private health insurance industry. Save $400 billion in administrative costs and profits, use that money to insure everyone. You have a card, an Americare card, when you’re born, and you can go to any doctor, any hospital in the country. So this is what the American people want. Insiders say this is what we’re going to get, sooner or later. Why not just have it now?
Well, the reason is because the health insurance industry will be put out of business, and they control Senator Baucus and the senators on the Senate Finance Committee.
So, all we wanted that day last week was to pull up a seat at the table and put Dr. Flowers there so she could explain to the American people what single payer was about. And Senator Baucus, instead of allowing us to do it and listening — having one out of the fifteen a single-payer advocate, Senator Baucus called the police and had us put in handcuffs and hauled out.
You know, the faxing, the phone calling, all of that’s not working anymore. We have to use a battering ram to break what’s going on, break down what’s going on in Congress. That’s why we started Single Payer Action. You know, when we launched it, the Democracy Now! audience was incredibly generous, went to our website, signed up, donated. And we’re doing now a creative civil disobedience all over the country, because we’re getting locked out by the mainstream media, we’re getting locked out of Congress. And the only way that this is going to happen now is people to — people all over the country to directly confront their members of Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Russell Mokhiber and Dr. Margaret Flowers. We’re going to come back to them. I want to ask Dr. Flowers about these polls that Russell cites indicating people’s support for single payer.
And then we’re going to be joined by Howard Zinn, the legendary historian, here in our studio in New York. A new film is being made that will be aired on History, the new history channel, called The People Speak. And among those who are in this are, oh, Eddie Vedder. He’ll be our break.
Yeah, that’s Eddie Vedder singing “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan. In a few minutes, we’ll find out why and what this film Let the People Speak is all about.
But right now we’re joined by Russell Mokhiber in Washington, founder of singlepayeraction.org. He’s editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter. And Dr. Margaret Flowers in Baltimore, a pediatrician there, who is co-chair of the Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.
Doctor Flowers, the issue of these polls, who supports single payer in this country? And then explain exactly what it is, since it’s so rarely talked about in the media, except as a reference to be criticized.
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS:
Right. Thank you. So we have numerous independent polls done by groups like CBS, New York Times and Yahoo!, that have consistently shown that 60 percent or more of the American people favor a national health program based on single payer.
And recently, there was a poll taken where they used the term “socialism” — “Would the country be better off if we had socialized medicine?” — which is, you know, the worst word we’re supposed to use. And 46 percent of the public said, yes, we would be better with socialized medicine. Thirty-nine percent said they didn’t think we would be better. But clearly, 60 percent or more of the American public favors this type of system.
And then, if we look at the doctor polls, we have a physician poll from two years ago, where they used the American Medical Association database. And the AMA tends to be a fairly conservative group of physicians. They represent less than 30 percent of physicians nationwide, but they tend to be the more conservative. And out of that group, 59 percent favored a national health program. And if you looked at the primary care specialties like pediatrics, it was much higher, in the seventies and eighties.
So there’s clearly support from the public and from physicians for single-payer healthcare. It’s just Congress who’s having a hard time coming around.
And the reason we support it is that single-payer healthcare would create a national health system. We don’t have a system right now. Everything is very fragmented and very confusing. It would create a single system where every person is included, and it covers all medically necessary care. It frees doctors and patients to make medical decisions without interference from the insurance companies, insurance companies who are only trying to profit off of this situation and are making it very, very difficult to provide quality care in this country.
I wanted to ask about President Obama. Monday, standing with the — well, all of the health industry leaders, saying that, you know, they were going to be voluntarily shaving some $2 trillion off US healthcare costs over the next ten years. Among those gathered were executives from HMO giants Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and HealthNet, Inc., and the health insurance lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans, from American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, from medical device companies, and from the pharmaceutical industry, including the president and CEO of Merck and former congressman, Billy Tauzin, now president and CEO of PhRMA, the massive industry lobbying group. Russell Mokhiber, your take on this meeting?
Well, Amy, you had Dr. Quentin Young on your program in March. He’s the founder of Physicians for a National Health Program and a friend of President Obama, when he was in Chicago as a young politician and when he supported single payer. And Quentin Young called President Obama dishonest, and he is dishonest, because — and the corporate Democrats are dishonest, because they know that single payer is the only way that’s going to solve this problem, and yet they’re keeping it off the table, and yet they’re cavorting with the health insurance industry, which should be put out of business. So this is the problem.
The problem is not a question of — everybody in this town knows what the answer is and knows this is going to be the answer. The problem is, they don’t want to confront it. They don’t want to confront it because of the political power. And so, we’re going to force them to confront it. The enemy is no longer the health insurance industry or the pharmaceutical industry. The enemy is the corporate Democrats, the liberals and the corporate liberals in Congress, who say they support healthcare for all, but are opposed to the only thing that will get us there. So that’s why we’re doing these actions, because we’re directly confronting the corporate liberals, Max Baucus, President Obama, Senator Chris Dodd — and we’re going to be doing this all over the country — and saying to them, “It’s time now that you put aside your ties to the corporate industries, to the pharmaceutical industry, and that you do the right thing for the American people.”
What are those ties?
Well, for example, Senator Baucus, over his career, has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the pharmaceutical industry and from the drug industry. And so, from my point of view, when Senator Baucus says single payer is off the table, he’s speaking on behalf of the industries. He is not speaking as a representative of the people.
Same for President Obama. I mean, President Obama, why not have an advocate, a doctor advocate, at the White House speaking for single payer? When he held his first summit, at Single Payer Action we wrote about the fact that he was excluding the single-payer advocates. There was a protest scheduled, and he threw the single-payer advocates a bone by having Congressman Conyers there and someone from PNHP there, and the protest was called off. We will not call off the protests. We will continue to engage in creative civil disobedience until this is delivered, sooner rather than later.
And if the hearings are closed, Russell?
Well, they’re going to close the hearings to mark up the legislation. But it’s not just going to be in Congress. We’re going to be doing this all over the country. We’re going to be doing it in congressional districts, and we are doing it in congressional districts.
The regular means of communications have been shut down. Congress is not listening. Congress is only listening now to the big industries, to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. And so, we have no choice now. When we stood up — and this is going to take doctors and nurses. And that’s why this is a winnable issue now, because doctors and nurses are so frustrated that they’re starting to see that this is the only way to do it.
One of the doctors that we were arrested with last week, Dr. Carol Paris, is a psychiatrist in Maryland. And while we were sitting there in jail, she was telling me that one of her specialties is disturbed doctors. These are doctors who are so frustrated with the system that they’re taking it out on their patients. So she sees a way to relieve the pressure on doctors as single payer, so that doctors can once again focus on their patients. Right now, they’re being distracted by insurance. I have a doctor friend in Maryland right now who’s setting up his own business, and it’s a total nightmare. He’s got to deal with all these insurance companies and the bills and setting up the system — no time to focus on the patients.
Dr. Margaret Flowers, the number one issue that is often raised in the media is people like choice, and people who have healthcare plans that they like, they want to keep them and be guaranteed of that. What do you think of the public plan next to keeping private plans, something that it sounds like President Obama is supporting?
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS:
Right. Well, I agree that Americans want choice, but I think Congress is confused about what kind of choice Americans want. What they really want is a choice of healthcare provider, the choice of where they can go to seek their healthcare, and the choice of their treatment, because health insurance doesn’t provide healthcare, it doesn’t cover healthcare at a time when you’re the sickest, is when you run into the difficulties in trying to work with the health insurance.
And the problem with the public-private option and the public plan that they’re offering is that it keeps so many of the problems that we currently have. It keeps this next to the public option, yes, but you still have all of these thousands or over 1,500 private insurances that you still have to deal with. And so, in terms of savings, we’re not going to see the savings that we need to see if we have a public-private option. We only save about one-seventh of the money that we could save with a single-payer system.
And we know with all the money we can save going to single payer, we can provide more healthcare. We need to change the conversation and stop talking about health insurance and start talking about creating a system that provides healthcare.
Finally, Russell Mokhiber, this latest news today of Social Security and Medicare being threatened, going bankrupt, not being solvent? We have just thirty seconds to go.
Well, it’s interesting that, you know, the health insurance companies got passed so-called Medicare Advantage, where we, the taxpayers, pay the health insurance companies to undermine Medicare. Medicare is single payer.
You know, one of the propaganda pieces of the health insurance industry and Max Baucus and President Obama is they want a uniquely American solution to healthcare, by which they mean not single payer, because it’s so-called “socialist.” But it’s interesting that The New Republic ran an interview with the guy who created the Taiwanese single-payer system. They looked all over the world, and they modeled their single-payer system on our Medicare, a uniquely American solution.
So this is what we need. We need single payer, Medicare for everyone, single payer, and we’re going to get it done with creative civil disobedience. Go to singlepayeraction.org, sign up and donate, and we’ll get it done with a million active Americans.
Russell Mokhiber, founder of singlepayeraction.org, also editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter, and Dr. Margaret Flowers, speaking to us from Baltimore, Maryland, a pediatrician and co-chair of the Maryland chapter of the Physicians for a National Health Program.