Posted on November 5, 2009

150 activists arrested coast-to-coast for Medicare for All


Nov. 5, 2009

Margaret Flowers, M.D., Washington, D.C., (410) 591-0892,
Matt Hendrickson, M.D., Santa Monica, Calif., (310) 383-4343
Eric Naumburg, M.D., Columbia, Md., (443) 562-6562
James Squire, M.D., Seattle, (206) 465-6340
Katie Robbins, Healthcare-NOW, New York, (330) 618-6379
Mark Almberg, PNHP, (312) 782-6006, cell: (312) 622-0996,

In the past few weeks over 220 people in at least 28 cities have risked arrest by sitting-in at health insurance company offices and at the offices of national lawmakers to protest insurance company practices and to show their support for a single-payer national health insurance system, sometimes called an improved “Medicare for All.”

Over 150 of the participants, including a number of physicians and nurses, have been arrested in the lobbies of companies like UnitedHealth, WellPoint, Aetna, Cigna and Humana, and at offices of key legislators. Another nine were arrested today in the Capitol Hill office of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who activists say is closely aligned with private, for-profit insurers.

“The mass arrests of single-payer activists signal the urgency of our movement,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers, congressional fellow for Physicians for a National Health Program. “With nearly 45,000 people dying annually due to lack of insurance, we are compelled to take action. A majority of Americans support a Medicare-for-All approach. We need congresspersons to heed the views of their constituents.”

Flowers continued: “I did not want to be arrested, but as a physician, I know the tragic state of our health care system. For too long, the health insurance industry has gotten away with its deadly practices of screening out the sick and denying care to increase their profits.”

Flowers, a Maryland pediatrician, joined dozens of others in protesting at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield on Oct. 29 in Baltimore. She was arrested and detained for nearly 12 hours. Other physicians have been arrested at private insurance companies in California and Washington state.

Organizers say the sit-ins constitute one of the largest coordinated acts nonviolent civil disobedience in U.S. history. While the actions have taken place largely beneath the national radar, organizers credit them for helping to keep the Medicare-for-All alternative on the congressional agenda.

On Wednesday, for example, 12 activists were arrested at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco office. The activists said that Pelosi was threatening to renege on her promise to allow a debate and floor vote on Rep. Anthony Weiner’s single-payer amendment to the Affordable Healthcare for America Act (H.R. 3962).

On Thursday, Pelosi said she would fulfill her promise, and Weiner’s single-payer amendment is expected to receive a floor vote — a historic first for this kind of legislation — on Friday or Saturday.

Leaders of the activists, most of whom have been organized by groups like Healthcare-NOW and the Mobilization for Health Care for All, say a single-payer program would recapture over $400 billion wasted annually on excessive bureaucracy and paperwork, enough to provide everyone with comprehensive, high-quality health care.

Sit-ins and other nonviolent direct actions have taken place in the following cities, among others:

Glendale, CA
Los Angeles, CA
San Francisco, CA
San Diego, CA
Denver, CO
Washington, DC
Sunrise, FL
Atlanta, GA
Augusta, GA
Chicago, IL
Louisville, KY
Boston, MA
Baltimore, MD
Detroit, MI
Newark, NJ
Albuquerque, NM
New York City, NY
Rochester, NY
Syracuse, NY
Cleveland, OH
Columbus, OH
Philadelphia, PA
Warwick, RI
Houston, TX
Va. Beach, VA
Seattle, WA

Physicians for a National Health Program is an organization of 17,000 doctors who support single-payer national health insurance. For more information, visit or call (312) 782-6006.